Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Empire Strikes Back

Tony Hu conquers River North with Lao 18


Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great conquered their worlds with forged, blood-stained steel.
Tony Hu prefers the stainless kind of steel, applying it to twice-cooked pork belly and three-chili chicken when conquering the world of Chinese cuisine.
The unchallenged Emperor of Chinatown has expanded his boundaries to River North with his biggest conquest yet: Lao 18, the crown jewel of the celebrity chef's sprawling empire which includes eight additional top-rated Chinese outposts.

But you don't have to be an emperor to drink like one with the bar’s limited selection of Chinese Maotai: a local spirit presented as an official gift from the Chinese embassies. The 106-proof liquor is served with Szechuan peppercorn-infused bourbon, an off-menu item yours for the asking.

Just as you'd find at any upscale Szechuan restaurant set in a chic Hong Kong nightclub setting, whole red snapper, steamed spare ribs, and chicken feet (yes, chicken feet) are served between the bar and the DJ booth in addition to sake bottle service and specialty cocktails.
And, to remind you of its dominance over the local Chinese food scene, Lao 18 makes its presence known with hand-painted bowls suspended from the ceiling, metal bird cages decorating booths that overlook the restaurant, and a massive gold light fixture as the centerpiece of it all.
The spoils of war have never looked, smelled, or tasted this good.

Lao 18
18 W. Hubbard St. (at N. State St.), River North
(312) 955-8018

Price: 2 (out of 4)
Noise: 3 (out of 4)
Subway: Red Line to Grand
Scene: A gathering of Tony Hu friends, who include but are not limited to Chinese diplomats and local celebs.
Best bets: Black pepper tenderloin; Peking-style dumplings; dry chili prawns
Nearby: Rockit Bar & Grill; Paris Club; Sable Kitchen + Bar

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