After I tweeted on Christmas Eve that I'd charted a Christmas Day course of three Chinese meals, I heard back from a half-dozen friends and concerned strangers worried I'd either mistyped or taken a perfectly reasonable tradition too far. Three meals? How? Where? Why?
I'll leave the last question unanswered here, since I've already written reams on the topic, and since it seems unnecessary to defend excess on Christmas. The hows and wheres follow. I'd love to hear where you ate Chinese on Christmas; feel free to recount your meal (or meals) in the comments section below.
11 a.m. Dim Sum, Noble Court
11 a.m. Dim Sum, Noble Court
I hadn't yet strayed beyond the ID for dim sum (Harbor City's my go-to pick), so took advantage of the lazy holiday schedule to amble out to Bellevue. As the name implies, the restaurant aims for the faux-palatial ambiance that's common at big dim sum houses: The carpeting and upholstery are powder pink, and windows overlook what appears to be a rushing stream, although its proximity to a baseball field suggests it might be an artificial drainage system.
While I couldn't find any reason on the carts to make a return trip to Noble Court, my husband - whose lifetime dim sum experience consists of two or three egg roll-eating outings - really liked it. He appreciated the servers' willingness to pull back the covers on steam baskets and fluently explain the food within. And while I kept hoping for a dish which deviated from the greatest hits line-up, he was glad to be presented with dishes he knew. Dim sum can be disorienting, but Noble Court's a fine restaurant in which to introduce a neophyte to the practice.
Unfortunately, the food at Noble Court is unlikely to produce many dim sum converts. Everything I sampled was decent, save the gloopy stewed chicken feet: I much prefer feet which are fried before steaming, so the skin crisps. But nothing really shone, including the fairly tough, dense shumai. Still, I enjoyed the turnip cake, which had discernible bits of radish, and was nicely crisped on the outside. And my husband was very happy with his pot stickers and egg rolls.
1 p.m. Lunch, SIFF Uptown
The unplanned portion of my Chinese meal itinerary was a Chinese lunch buffet, provided free with my ticket to SIFF's singalong screening of Fiddler on the Roof (other than a bellowing of "Tradition!" at the movie's start, there was very little group participation: Much of the score is more recitative than anthem.)
The line for Catering by Phyllis' vegetable lo mein and white rice started at the front of the theater, wrapped around the back row of seats and continued all the way back down to the buffet table, so I grabbed a fortune cookie and saved my appetite for dinner.
7 p.m. Dinner, Tai Tung
My sentimental favorite ID restaurant, Tai Tung has a hard-luck look that probably predates the 1964 "modernizing" renovation trumpeted in a newspaper clipping posted near the host stand. The restaurant was opened in 1935 by the scion of a Chicago restaurant family who realized there wasn't room enough in Chinatown for him and his brothers.
Although I'm not sure which Windy City restaurants are kin to Tai Tung, I'm familiar with the aesthetic, since my grandfather ran a hardware store in Chicago's Chinatown. It's not a huge conceptual leap from Won Kow to Tai Tung. Both restaurants specialize in saucy white dishes seeded with onions, green peppers and water chestnuts and strong yesteryear cocktails: I like a whiskey sour with my chicken chow mein.
My only regret from a day of Chinese meals is failing to properly convey to my guests at Tai Tung that the restaurant is staunchly Chinese-American, which isn't a slight: The unique dishes that Chinese restaurateurs developed for non-Asian audiences should be treasured alongside other New World amalgams, like rock music. But patrons have to order accordingly. I felt badly that I didn't try harder to dissuade the eaters at my table from ordering ambitious dishes with shrimp balls and dark greens. Fortunately, the server nimbly parried a request for mustard greens soup by bringing the house cabbage soup instead. "So the mustard greens? Forget about it?," he asked conclusively.
We should have stuck to the always-delicious almond subgum. That's tradition. (Tradition!)