Restaurateur Tony Hu has been hoping to open a branch of his Lao Sze Chuan restaurant in Evanston for ten years, he says—it was just a matter of finding the right space.
Now, that's he found a location at 1633 Orrington Ave., fans of Hu’s Szechuan Chinese dishes like dry chili chicken, twice-cooked pork and crispy shrimp won’t make have to make the trek down to Chinatown.
Called Lao Sze Chuan, the restaurant is slated to open by the end of this year, in the former Pomegranate location downtown. It’s the 12th restaurant for Hu’s Tony Gourmet Group and the fifth one to specialize in Szechuan cuisine under the name Lao Sze Chuan.
“Szechuan cuisine has many different flavors. Some are spicy, some are not spicy, some are sour-spicy, some are numbing spicy,” Hu explains. “If there are a hundred dishes, they have a hundred different flavors. That’s why people love it.”
Hu, who recently returned from a trip to China to find new dishes and recipes, says he is still finalizing the menu at the Evanston restaurant. It will definitely contain some of the most popular items from Lao Sze Chuan’s Chinatown and Uptown locations, however, including spicy hot pots and Ma Po Tofu (made with marinated pork, bean curd and mashed black beans).
The Evanston restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, and co-manager Yi Dong says he hopes to open Lao Sze Chuan Evanston by Thanksgiving. It will have a full service bar and offer takeout, delivery and catering.
One special recipe Dong is hoping to try in Evanston uses salted duck eggs. The duck eggs are soaked in brine, then crushed to make a golden-colored gravy that may be stir-fried with lobsters, crabs and shrimp, according to Dong.
More than 50 percent of the items on the menu won’t be spicy, he said, and there were also be many different vegetarian options, including many varieties of tofu. Spicy dishes may include tea-smoked duck (cooked in green tea), and of course, the dry chili chicken, which is covered in leathery dried red chilies. It isn’t actually the chilies that give the dish it’s spicy flavor, however, Dong explains. It’s the Szechuan peppercorns that knock out your mouth.
So just how hot are the hottest dishes on the menu?
“When we mean spicy, we mean spicy,” Dong says. “Those will make your tongue feel numb.”
In addition to Lao Sze Chuan Evanston, Hu recently opened a restaurant called Lao 18 in River North, and is planning to open another restaurant on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago next March.