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Imperial Lamian - upscale Chinese in River North

Imperial Lamian - upscale Chinese in River North
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  • Imperial Lamian - upscale Chinese in River North

    Post #1 - March 6th, 2016, 2:05 pm
    Post #1 - March 6th, 2016, 2:05 pm Post #1 - March 6th, 2016, 2:05 pm
    One thing I appreciated traveling recently to Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu (and previously Hong Kong) was the opportunity to enjoy Chinese food in more upscale settings, where plating and presentation are as critical to the dining experience as flavor. To assume that the best Chinese restaurants must be located in basements of dingy malls and have makeshift seating is to completely ignore the way millions of Chinese people eat.

    But as I think of the upscale Chinese restaurants that have opened in Chicago, most have completely failed me. There was LEYE's Ben Pao, that delivered a slightly more upscale PF Chang's with slightly better but still sweet and very Americanized Chinese food. There were (and perhaps still are) Tony Hu's attempts. But the newly opened Imperial Lamian, an Indonesian-based restaurant bringing its first restaurant to the United States, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to more traditional Chinese foods and in an upscale setting. I wasted no time giving it a shot, dining there this past Friday (its opening night).

    In terms of opening night jitters, they certainly weren't apparent on the service front. We were warmly greeted, seated right away and our waitress seemed about as excited to wait on us as we were to dine there.

    As for food, I suspect the greatest challenge may be getting the cooks at the Chicago restaurant to understand and accept that Chinese cooking is very different than much of what these chefs/cooks have previously done (or so I suspect). One of the things that amazed me about Chinese cooking, as I read in Fuchsia Dunlop's book Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, was the vast number of ways Chinese cooks chop and dice ingredients to achieve different flavors and textures, and the level of precision in their cuts. I thought about that as we ate the Kung Pao Chicken at Imperial Lampian. The vegetables and peppers were beautifully cut, and all the same size. But I can't say the same for the chicken as the pieces were more irregularly cut and a bit too large. Yet this was still one of the better versions of the dish I've had with a healthy dose of spice heat and some terrific flavor from the dried peppers (though perhaps a tad too sweet). It was not as good as the fantastic version I had at Lost Heaven in Shanghai, but it was respectable and better than what I expect you'll find elsewhere in town.

    Image
    Kung Pao Chicken




    One of the things that really attracted me to Imperial Lamian was their xiao long bao (soup dumpling) program. They offer six actually: pork, crab, truffle, duck, gruyere and spicy Szechuan. We tried the pork (Shanghai) and crab and they were the best I've had in Chicago despite consistency issues and the need to improve their dumpling making skills overall.

    The amount of soup in each dumpling varied some, but all offered a healthy dose of soup and some fantastic flavor. I wish they offered a crab and pork xlb but in any event both the crab and pork were terrific. They're appropriate served with soup spoons and with black vinegar flecked with strands of ginger. And no ridiculous carrot slices or foil candy cups here. No, just real xlb. But as you'll see from the pictures, the kitchen needs to improve their dumpling making skills (they should be prettier), they need to ensure better consistency in the amount of filling in each dumpling and the wrappers were a tad too thick. Still, very impressive, particularly for opening night. Note: you're dining in River North and you will be overpaying. The xlb are 3 per order and range from $7-10.

    Image

    Image
    Xiao Long Bao - Shanghai (pork) above, Crab below




    Imperial Lamian also offers a number of dim sum items, ten to be exact (not including dessert dim sum offerings). We shared the bbq pork baked buns and the venison puffs. Both were pretty good, though I prefer the standard bbq pork buns found at most dim sum restaurants. These had a harder shell.

    Image
    BBQ pork buns (left), venison puffs (right)



    Finally, we had the chance to partake in Imperial Lamian's handpulled noodles. They offer five versions in broth and three wok fried. We chose the wok fried noodles. I enjoyed the texture of the noodles quite a bit, but I would have enjoyed a bit more char from the wok. Still, very good noodles.

    Image
    Hand pulled, wok fried noodles with vegetables




    For dessert, we had a couple more dim sum items, egg custard buns and sesame balls filled with taro paste. Both were terrific versions of these ubiquitous sweet dim sum items.

    Image

    Image
    Sesame balls with taro paste (above), egg custard buns (below)




    There's more of the menu I look forward to sampling, including bbq items. Imperial Lamian has a full bar, including a cocktail program. I enjoyed a decent and nicely balanced Singapore Sling. They did a great job with the interior - it's quite striking, nice place settings, and I love the way the open kitchen stretches the length of the dining room, such that the dumpling making and noodle pulling are in full view.

    I really hope Imperial Lamian succeeds and finds a following. Interestingly, it will very likely have some stiff competition when Duck, Duck Goat opens, but having a couple of new upscale Chinese options in the city can only be a good thing.

    Their menu is not currently on their website, but here's their current food menu (not including dessert):

    Menu

    Imperial Lamian
    6 West Hubbard (Hubbard and State)
    312.595.9440
  • Post #2 - March 6th, 2016, 8:12 pm
    Post #2 - March 6th, 2016, 8:12 pm Post #2 - March 6th, 2016, 8:12 pm
    But as I think of the upscale Chinese restaurants that have opened in Chicago, most have completely failed me. There was LEYE's Ben Pao, that delivered a slightly more upscale PF Chang's with slightly better but still sweet and very Americanized Chinese food. There were (and perhaps still are) Tony Hu's attempts


    Ever eaten at Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula? Would be curious how that compares to IL, as it seems the closest Chicago measuring stick for "fancy" Chinese.

    How did you find the ingredient quality? Any sense of whether the sourcing/quality of the meat and the like match what they are trying to do otherwise on the "upscale" front? Or is the higher end aspect of this limited to technique, presentation and service?
  • Post #3 - March 7th, 2016, 8:48 am
    Post #3 - March 7th, 2016, 8:48 am Post #3 - March 7th, 2016, 8:48 am
    I can't comment on the sourcing of ingredients . . . I just don't know and I wouldn't want to speculate. I know they offer wagyu (oxtail and veal shank) but even then I wouldn't want to speculate on the quality.

    As for Shanghai Terrace, it's been several years since I visited (I've been twice) and I wasn't particularly impressed with the food, and even less so at that price point. I'll probably give it another try at some point but I'm obviously not in a hurry.
  • Post #4 - March 7th, 2016, 9:04 am
    Post #4 - March 7th, 2016, 9:04 am Post #4 - March 7th, 2016, 9:04 am
    Another one to check out is the Michigan Avenue version of LSC. It seems to skew a bit more upscale than the other outposts, although I'm not sure the food is as good as the more down home locations, based on a single visit.

    Lao Sze Chuan (Gold Coast Version)
    520 N Michigan Ave #420
    Chicago, IL 60611
    (312) 595-0888
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #5 - March 7th, 2016, 3:18 pm
    Post #5 - March 7th, 2016, 3:18 pm Post #5 - March 7th, 2016, 3:18 pm
    To assume that the best Chinese restaurants must be located in basements of dingy malls and have makeshift seating is to completely ignore the way millions of Chinese people eat.


    /agree and want to extend that to all non traditional Western cuisines. For example, I hate it when people say Mexican food is only authentic if its served with tecate in a shack on a dirt road.
  • Post #6 - March 7th, 2016, 5:00 pm
    Post #6 - March 7th, 2016, 5:00 pm Post #6 - March 7th, 2016, 5:00 pm
    Matt wrote:Ever eaten at Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula? Would be curious how that compares to IL, as it seems the closest Chicago measuring stick for "fancy" Chinese.

    I was thinking the same thing, since Shanghai Terrace really is a high-end destination for Chinese cuisine. I've enjoyed dining there, not only for the luxurious atmosphere, but also for the delicious food. I've never been to China so I can't comment on the authenticity, but the luxury of the Peninsula hotel chain and its origins and ongoing operations in Hong Kong would lead me to believe it ought to be pretty authentic.
  • Post #7 - March 8th, 2016, 11:36 am
    Post #7 - March 8th, 2016, 11:36 am Post #7 - March 8th, 2016, 11:36 am
    My wife and I were pretty excited to see this open after all the talk from the owners about its authenticity and booked reservations for opening night. We love the relatively cheap and good Chinese offerings in the city, but a more refined experience is something sorely missing.

    However, once the menu was posted ahead of opening we were crestfallen. This was not the audacious menu promised. You are charging how much for red-braised pork, the most humble of peasant dishes? And the soup dumpling prices made us do a double-take. Why is sweet chile sauce all over an ostensibly Chinese menu? That is not something I really want to see at a Thai restaurant either.

    In the end it turned out great. Our seats were right next to the open kitchen so we watched a head chef slapping noodles and the rest of the kitchen staff fail at efficiently making dumplings (this is probably why they are so expensive). We tried to navigate towards the more unique and authentic dishes in our selections. Our selections were cucumber pickles, duck soup, asparagus in XO, radish cakes, minced pork soup noodles.

    Everything was very refined and tasty. I think the difference was exemplified in the two vegetable dishes. The pickles were expertly cut, very flavorful, but not sitting in a puddle of dressing as it is usually served. Similarly, the asparagus just had that extra attention to detail you don't always get from a typical Chinese restaurant stir fry. The duck soup was very ducky, but not particularly memorable otherwise. The radish cakes were great, but I prefer Dolo's where the textural contrast is better and at a fraction of the price.

    We commented to the staff about the pork noodles. A great little bowl of soup, very porky and the noodles were excellent as well. However, they were very heavy with the truffle oil and it masked other flavors. I think just a splash or even sesame oil would have served well enough.

    We broke down and ordered the salty egg yolk buns for dessert despite the exorbitant price. I can't say they were any better than Cai or Dolo's and again, very expensive.

    Other than the dumplings and the main entrees, the menu prices seem reasonable and again we enjoyed ourselves. Was it twice as good as [Insert Favorite Chinese Place] at twice the price, hell no. But if you want a break from the monotony of River North food scene, this is the place to go.
  • Post #8 - March 8th, 2016, 12:41 pm
    Post #8 - March 8th, 2016, 12:41 pm Post #8 - March 8th, 2016, 12:41 pm
    Thanks for the write-up. I completely agree about the upscale setting. People in America think that Chinese food even in China is not upscale and everything is dingy. My girlfriend is from China (been in the US for about 3 years) and has lived in each Shanghai and Beijing for a handful of years. We went to an upscale Chinese place that was pretty good in TriBeCa in NYC which had decor more along the lines of Imperial Lamian (at least from what I've seen in pictures). I kind of said something about the decor and she told me there are a lot of places like it in China in a more upscale setting and that Americans basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to the setting of Chinese restaurants in this regard.

    She also commented that a lot of the non-dingy places in America for Chinese food that are at least OK inside are basically how it was in the 1980s in China, not how it is today necessarily for at least the trendier places.
    2019 Chicago Food Business License Issuances Map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1AGfUU ... sp=sharing
  • Post #9 - March 8th, 2016, 3:38 pm
    Post #9 - March 8th, 2016, 3:38 pm Post #9 - March 8th, 2016, 3:38 pm
    I don't get the line of criticism that "Americans" all think Chinese restaurants have to be dumps. In lots and lots of smaller and medium sized towns in the country, Chinese restaurants were for many years the "fancy" but affordable places for family meals. That was certainly the case in my 1970's childhood in the South. And in the 80's and 90's places like Szechuan House here carried the same torch. For me, the prototypical fancy Chinese is Shun Lee Palace in Midtown Manhattan, keeping is classy since '71. Toronto is of course lousy with "fancy" Cantonese places, including the somewhat overrated (to me) Lai Wah Heen. MingHin here in Chicago evokes some of these well-appointed, comfortable old-timers.

    Sometimes things do get lost in the translation, of course. On my last trip to Toronto, I was guided to the supposedly "fancy" Grand, which is the hotel restaurant near the airport in a place patronized almost exclusively by wealthy mainland Chinese awaiting flights back home. The food was *fine* if expensive, and "fancy" meant a lot of salmon-colored linen and carpet, giant chandeliers, and guys in tuxedoes.

    The fact remains, however, that the best noodles and dumplings anywhere near here (and lots of other Chinese foods- the salted duck is my new love) are still being pushed out of a tiny kitchen in a dingy strip mall storefront off of Ogden Ave. in the burbs. None of the newcomer "hand pulled noodles" hold a candle to Mr. Red Shirt's at Katy's. I'd also buy them at a place that isn't a dump.
  • Post #10 - March 16th, 2016, 9:06 pm
    Post #10 - March 16th, 2016, 9:06 pm Post #10 - March 16th, 2016, 9:06 pm
    We were excited for Imperial Lamian and got a reservation as soon as we could; our experience last night was fine, though not remarkable. The menu isn't especially challenging or innovative. We tried standards like hot & sour soup (nice flavor, perfect consistency, too much tofu and almost no discernible pork) and har gao (large chunks of shrimp, though needed the dipping sauce; chives or scallion in the mixture would have helped), and the specialties like hand-pulled noodles (wok-fried, with expertly cooked shrimp, good texture though we wisely ordered without peppers - and since they are included in all three non-broth options, seems like overuse), 3 cup chicken (truly velvety, heavy but nice basil, but marred by inclusion of red peppers unlisted on the menu), and a side of asparagus (undercooked). The xiao long bao were the most disappointing: while the crab was delicate and tasty, the duck was one-note and a touch dry (just neither seasoned nor duck-y), and both seemed simultaneously too big and with too little broth overall. We'll be anxious to get to Duck Duck Goat soon, and were glad to learn from forumites about Shanghai Terrace; would go back to Lamian on other's suggestions but wouldn't push for it.
  • Post #11 - March 16th, 2016, 11:39 pm
    Post #11 - March 16th, 2016, 11:39 pm Post #11 - March 16th, 2016, 11:39 pm
    marothisu wrote:People in America think that Chinese food even in China is not upscale and everything is dingy.

    Americans basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to the setting of Chinese restaurants in this regard.



    Yeah. Americans suck, man.
    fine words butter no parsnips
  • Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 5:44 am
    Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 5:44 am Post #12 - March 17th, 2016, 5:44 am
    annak,

    I tend to agree with you that the menu does not have as much depth as I would have hoped for. But I'll take the Chinese food offered in an upscale setting, particularly when I find enough unique offerings, particularly the xlb & the hand pulled noodles. I suppose my excitement to some degree reflects what we're seriously lacking in terms of Chinese food in Chicago.

    And consistency appears to be a major issue early on -- no surprise -- and it's certainly obvious from what I'm reading about the xlb, from the mixed bag of them I tasted (soup varied from dumpling to dumpling, and so did texture) and from comparing the pictures of mine to the pictures of them I saw on Zagat.

    Still, I'm excited to have this restaurant in town for the reasons I've mentioned, even if it ultimately leaves me wanting for something better.
  • Post #13 - March 18th, 2016, 8:31 pm
    Post #13 - March 18th, 2016, 8:31 pm Post #13 - March 18th, 2016, 8:31 pm
    Roger Ramjet wrote:
    marothisu wrote:People in America think that Chinese food even in China is not upscale and everything is dingy.

    Americans basically have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to the setting of Chinese restaurants in this regard.



    Yeah. Americans suck, man.


    Thanks for taking my quote out of context. Convenient of you to take out the part how it was my girlfriend who said this. Regardless, many people simply don't think of Chinese food as anything more than "decently nice, but not upscale" still. If you don't think this, then you're out of touch with how most people in this country still think of the cuisine.
    2019 Chicago Food Business License Issuances Map: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1AGfUU ... sp=sharing
  • Post #14 - March 22nd, 2016, 10:03 pm
    Post #14 - March 22nd, 2016, 10:03 pm Post #14 - March 22nd, 2016, 10:03 pm
    I think Roger Ramjet was being a bit facetious.
  • Post #15 - April 25th, 2016, 8:38 pm
    Post #15 - April 25th, 2016, 8:38 pm Post #15 - April 25th, 2016, 8:38 pm
    The four of us in our party agreed: The starters we had, like the dim sum and the soup dumplings and the hot and sour soup, ranged from very good to extraordinary, with lots of complex and interesting flavors, while the mains we shared were one-note and ordinary in the extreme. (With the exception of the sliced BBQ roasted duck, which was well prepared and had good flavor.) If the second half of the meal had lived up the first, we would have departed enthusiastic to return.

    There was a slight service hiccup which turned out not to be much of anything. The waitress appeared at the table about halfway through to deliver the "bad news" that because a large party had ordered too many of the same sorts of dishes we had ordered, we would need to order different things instead, or accept a wait of a half-hour for our food to show up. Neither option pleased us, and I suggested that the restaurant bring us a complimentary dish in the meantime to make up for their screwup--which they did. But as it turned out, all the dishes we'd ordered came out at a reasonable time! Not sure why the management had instructed her to give us the unnecessary warning. Perhaps they decided on reflection that it was better simply to take care us. If so, I support that decision.
    Pithy quote here.
  • Post #16 - May 22nd, 2016, 8:12 am
    Post #16 - May 22nd, 2016, 8:12 am Post #16 - May 22nd, 2016, 8:12 am
    I visited Imperial Lamian during lunch hour, perhaps not the most auspicious choice, but the only one available to me while attending a conference. Sad to say that although the XLB arrived steaming to the table, they lacked expected elements of 1) a quantity of obvious, liquid soup - and yes, the wrappers were intact; 2) slightly stretchy (rather than gummy) wrappers, and 3) umami-bomb contents. On the other hand, the filling did have a noticeable sweet note characteristic of the XLB at Jia Jia Tang Bao in Shanghai. Call me spoiled, but I was disappointed. The lunch-special noodle bowl was under-seasoned for this salt-averse diner and I have to say that the noodles themselves lacked the bounce and barely-perceptible unevenness I have come to expect from hand-pulled noodles. Maybe I visited on an off-day, but I was disappointed.
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #17 - October 13th, 2016, 2:06 pm
    Post #17 - October 13th, 2016, 2:06 pm Post #17 - October 13th, 2016, 2:06 pm
    Nice write-up. Just an FYI to anyone looking to go here for dinner and you are going purely because of your love for Xiaolongbao, the traditional pork ones, just choose another place. My fiance and I went here after looking at their online menu. Got there to find out that they no longer allowed you to get the Xiao Long Bao separate. We would have had to order the 6 bao combo, for $18, to get just one Xiao Long Bao (traditional) :twisted:.

    I will go back for lunch to have the Xiao Long Bao and then try a few other things from the menu.
  • Post #18 - November 9th, 2020, 3:16 pm
    Post #18 - November 9th, 2020, 3:16 pm Post #18 - November 9th, 2020, 3:16 pm
    Imperial Lamian in Chicago closes, citing coronavirus pandemic economic challenges

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/coronavi ... story.html
    Never order barbecue in a place that also serves quiche - Lewis Grizzard

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