Quick weekend to Chicago and we ate so damn well. After stopping in Lafayette and having lunch at Heirloom we got into town and had an early dinner at Stephanie Izard’s new place, Duck Duck Goat, which the menu describes as “reasonably authentic Chinese cuisine.” At least when you have to take a 5:30 reservation in Chicago, it’s actually 6:30 in Indy. Anyhow, we were with our friends who love to share and we ordered a bunch of stuff.
They just kind of bring you things as they are ready. One of the first things we got were the soup dumplings. These were super tasty and tender dumplings filled with a light pork and crab flavored broth. They also serve you a seasoned soy sauce to put with them. We were not in agreement as to which way was the best to eat them—with or without the sauce—but we all agreed they were delicious. You kind of have to take a bite out of the top of them and eat them in a couple of (messy) steps.
We also had the shrimp toast. I love to make shrimp toast, but this one was quite different from most I have had or made. It was a full piece of bread topped with the baked minced shrimp. But what made it stand out were the pickled veggies on top—I really enjoyed the briny taste on top of what is typically a pretty rich dish.
Next was crab Rangoon ($13). These were good, but maybe were my least favorite item just because they weren’t that exciting. They were done well though and I liked the sweet-ish sauce with them. Not the neon red sweet and sour sauce typically found in Chinese restaurants. It was housemade and had more texture and depth of flavor.
The wood-fired char siu ribs though? Those things were off the chart good. And these aren’t typically my favorite types of items because I often find meat like this dry and flavorless. These had the right amount of fattiness and great flavor between the smokiness and the salty sauce. Everyone loved them.
We also had the mapo doufu (my choice). I really enjoyed it but I am guessing others at my table didn’t like it as much as I did. There were lots of hunks of tofu and lots of little shreds of pork coated in a spicy Sichuan sauce. It had a secret kick from the peppers that you didn’t taste at first, but slowly grew until your mouth was a little numb and tingly. It was even better once we got our pork-fried rice (in future, I would make sure to ask that the mapo doufu came out at the same time as a noodle or rice dish). The rice had different kinds of rice—white jasmine rice but also a type of red wild rice that gave it a really nice texture. With the creamy tofu, it was a great combo. Everyone loved that rice. It was inhaled. I mean there were chunks of pork belly and sausage in there so you couldn’t really go wrong.
Finally, we had their version of Peking Duck ($59)—again another thing that I probably wouldn’t have typically ordered (the beauty of having multiple people with you) but it was outstanding. Everyone was talking about it for days. The duck was taken off the bone perfectly-there wasn’t a sliver of bone left over. And the skin was super crisp. They gave you a whole platter of seasonings and sauces to use with it and little pancakes as well. It’s a big dish, and it’s expensive, but it’s worth it if you have at least 4 people. They only make a couple an hour though, so if you want it, tell them right away. The cool thing is, they are also opening a little street food window attached to the restaurant where you can walk up and get various items. That would be such a cool place to have around for lunch.
Anyway, we really liked it and I want to go again and try more things. You have to love the cheesy movie-set like quality of the decor too. Just kitschy enough.
Also, quickly—the next day we went to lunch again at Au Cheval. Our friends had never been there and we knew they needed to try that burger. They were not disappointed—I mean that might be the best burger ever (although this time we got the egg on it. I think just the straight up burger without the egg or bacon is the best way to experience it). We also had the fries with mornay sauce and aioli and an egg as well. Oh, and this time we tried the hash browns were were stupendous. They were super thin and super, super crisp. Totally worth ordering.
And then, because our server felt that our service was slow (we were fine) she brought us a free dessert. I really, really didn’t need dessert after all that food, but oh my god. Now I don’t know if I can ever not order it. At it’s core was a blueberry muffin. That doesn’t sound exciting I know, but it was the best damn blueberry muffin ever. And then they give you this super soft salty butter with it. Those two items alone were amazing. But then, somewhat incongruently, there’s chocolate ice cream and warm dark chocolate sauce in a little pitcher too. Both are good, but not so much with the muffin. The muffin needs nothing but that butter. But you can make yourself a nice little side sundae.
Au Cheval doesn’t take reservations, so get there early if you want to have lunch on the weekend. They open at 11:00 and we got there about 10:40 and got in line. We were seated in the first round as they opened the door at 11:00. The line went halfway down the block by 11:00.
Two great places—both are places I would (and will) easily return to in Chicago.
Duck Duck Goat
857 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
800 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607