Ate at Spring World for the first time last night with a big group. One of the finest Chinese meals I have had in Chicago hands-down.
We started with two apps - szechuan beef and maw, and smoked beef szechuan style. The second dish was ordered accidentally - we didn't need that much beef as an app.
The beef and maw was great, the flavors really shone, the beef was rich and garlicy and the cilantro provided a refreshing zest to the dish. The "smoked" beef had no smokey flavor. It was an OK dish - the fat completely rendered by what must have been braising or baking, making the beef soft and rich. Why they call it smoked? Who knows...chalk it up to awkward transaltion perhaps.
Szechuan green beans were the best rendition I've had of this venerable dish. The beans retained a fresh vegetal snap, perfectly textured. Among the various meats and sea creatures we ordered, the beans were the first to go - a testament to their excellence.
Salt and pepper shrimp (the name was slightly different on the menu - chile shrimp perhaps?). Basically fried shrimp with no shell, coated in what seemed like cornmeal and dotted with dry chile, fried garlic and !!! crispy Chinese bacon. This was an excellent plate of food - a nice departure from the S&P shrimp I have had at other restaurants.
Lamb with cumin was great. Flavors vaugely reminiscent of chili (cumin, meat, hot peppers) - altogether a dish that is not as daunting as it sounds. A bit greasy at the bottom of the plate but the lamb was well-textured and had a nice gamey-ness to it. Definitely a must try for people who never thought to order lamb at a Chinese restaurant.
Beef chow fun was beef chow fun. The noodles were perfectly textured and the dish wasn't as oily as others I have had. Not a must-try but a good version nontheless.
Our final dish was the only stinker (in my opinion at least, others at the table loved it). Deep fried whole fish with sweet and sour sauce. If I had wanted something that tasted like pancakes in syrup I would have ordered pancakes with syrup. The fish was competently fried, but fried skin combined with the sweet and sour "sauce" (corn syrup, ketchup, corn starch, garlic???) created the odd and of-putting impression of eating pan fried flapjakes with Aunt Jemima syrup. By the time we pulled the fish apart, its tender flesh was submerged in this cloying goo. Basically, good fish, bad sauce.
Dinner was about $90 for 5 people (w/ tip). Service was gregarious (we had a Chinese speaker with us, but they seemed genuinely accommodating). Oh and the restaurant was handsomely and tastefully decorated, from the tables to the steam table area. Lot's of tile and natural stone. Very cool.
On an interesting note, we spotted numerous tables ordering what looked like a joint stewed ham hock. My chinese friend asked what it was and got the reply "big bone." The waitress then confirmed that it was indeed a stewed ham hock. Looks great, will try next time.
"By the fig, the olive..." Surat Al-Teen, Mecca 95:1"