Lao Sze Chaun
2172 S. Archer Ave
During a recent episode of “No Reservations” where Anthony Bourdain jetted off to Melbourne – he ate at a Szechuan restaurant and devoured a delicious looking dish that was basically a pan of red chilis studded with meat. M, ever the capsaicin lover, was practically salivating at the screen. So we figured the next time we were in Chinatown we should go someplace for Szechuan food, known for its particular heat. We did a bit of scouring to test the Szechuan options in Chicago, and Lao Sze Chuan came out on top. Lao Sze Chuan is located in the heart of Chinatown and earns rave reviews for its more innovative take on this Chinese regional cuisine.
The interior is your basic spartan eatery, but, as always, decor matters little to us and we dove right into the intimidatingly massive menu. We stuck to the page of ‘specials’ since we were frankly overwhelmed by the massive amounts of choice. Though we didn’t venture too far afield, we especially enjoyed the demarcated section with “Very Chinese Specials” including Stir-Fried Pork Stomach with Dry Bean Curd ($7.95) and Pork Blood Cake with Chives ($8.95). It’s always a good reminder that we still have a ways to go to truly appreciate all of the world’s food – including offal.
M ordered Tony’s Three Chili Chicken ($9.95), a dish that constantly garners rave reviews when Lao Sze Chuan is mentioned. Despite the “3 Chili” label M found the dish not too spicy. In fact, it was not spicy at all. It was so unspicy in fact, that L even commented it was a bit bland. The only discernible spice was the few whole red chili peppers tossed into the dish. This was particularly perplexing – since we told the server to make the dish spicy, and to not tone it down. The chicken was mostly breading as well, which disappointed us a level further. As an accompaniment we ordered the garlic spinach ($7.95), perhaps in uninspired choice, but it arrived as advertised – garlicky and spinachy.
Our two table-mates had some formidable looking smoothies, which they reported that they quite enjoyed. We looked a bit longingly at the overflowing pastel fruit drinks as we picked through our bland chicken. Lao Sze Chaun left us scratching our head a little – everyone raves about its authenticity and flair, but we got neither. There was nary a hint of spice on even the dishes marked a spice-denoting ‘pepper’ in the menu and a dish named the “3 Pepper Chicken” didn’t even make us reach for a glass of water….