In China there are no crab rangoons, no sweet and sour chicken, no fortune cookies and no one has ever heard of General Tso. And while each of these dishes is delicious, they are also decidedly American Chinese. Which is why in a city as culinarily diverse as Chicago, it has always struck me as odd that there are not more authentic Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown. And I have to ask myself why very few have thought to tap into the rich culinary landscape of modern, refined Chinese food? And then came Imperial Lamian.
Restaurateur, Vincent Lawrence has committed to making this the most authentic Chinese restaurant in the city, and as someone who has spent time in China, I can say he is succeeding. The first bite that introduced my mouth to this Indonesian chain was the Shanghai Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings), followed by the Gruyere Xiao Long Bao. To eat the artfully prepared soup dumplings in the politest way possible, I used my chopsticks to place a single dumpling on my spoon and then poked a few holes into the sides. This allowed the hot, aromatic soup to trickle out of the dumpling, and me to slowly sip the broth. Once the broth in the spoon was gone, I ate the dumpling in one bite and moved onto the next.
The hand rolled dough was soft and delicious, with subtle hints of salt. Each steamed to order dumpling was bursting with flavor. With one dumpling containing pork and one dumpling containing cheese, the flavors were very different, but both were exceptional. As I was eating them I found myself already fanaticizing about coming back to eat more.
As soon as the dumplings were gone I was given the Stuffed Chicken Wing. Served as small rolls that slightly resemble sushi, this dish packed some heat — which I loved. The skin on the chicken was crispy and in the center laid succulent Tiger shrimp, chopped veggies and small pieces of cilantro. The sweet chili sauce, served on the side, was a smart pairing. The flavors were complex and each bite was laced with a pungent zing that awakened my senses. The Miso Soup that came next was visually rare. The tofu inside of the broth was sliced in a way that resembled a blossoming flower, and the green wakame (edible seaweed) and goji berries danced beautifully around.
The Crispy Duck Salad was a textural playground. The greens were light and crunchy, the rich and decadent duck instantly melted in my mouth and with each bite the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds burst onto my taste buds, brimming with tantalizing flavor. The intense earthiness of hoisin truffle dressing, infused with salty and sweet notes was a stroke of genius. This is a salad that even the most particular of carnivores would love.
The Braised Pork Belly Lamian was served in a deep and artisanal bowl and is ideal for sharing. The long, hand-pulled noodles are soaked in a salty pork broth and served with Chinese mustard greens, bok choy, coriander and of course, braised pork belly. Side note: There is no polite way to eat the silky and tender noodles. In some Chinese cultures they believe the longer the noodle, the longer the life, so to cut a noodle would mean to cut a life short. With subtle slurping involved to taste all of the robust flavors, I would not recommend this dish on a first date. Any other time, it’s a must try. As the server walked the Seafood Fried Rice to the table I saw heads turning throughout the restaurant. Served with the entire lobster shell on the side, this exquisite bowl of food contained large pieces of lobster meat, scallops and eggs. The lobster and scallops were fresh, plump and satisfying.
To end the tasting journey, I was given three Golden Sesame Balls (in China the number three is lucky) and was immediately intrigued by what I saw. This unassuming dessert was the definition of simple and the three plain balls of steamed yeast-leavened dough were visually unremarkable. As I took my first bite my taste buds went crazy, this was no ordinary ball of dough. The sweet bun was filled with satiny lotus paste and each bite tasted more luxurious than the next. The light notes of caramel were an added bonus and I was reminded to never judge a book by its cover.
6 West Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654
Featured Image Photo Credit: Jeff Schear Photography