Lunch with chef/restaurateur Tony Hu is neither relaxing nor boring. Cell phone calls and texts punctuate the conversation, which isn’t surprising given how quickly Hu’s Tony Gourmet Group is expanding. The current count includes seven restaurants in Chinatown and one each in Uptown, Downers Grove, and Connecticut. Lao 18 in River North is slated to open in a month or two, followed by a restaurant on Michigan Avenue and several others already on the drawing boards.
Minus the four Lao Sze Chuans, each of Hu’s restaurants focuses on a different area of China. It’s hard to imagine how he keeps it all straight, but he does. And while he tends to business, I zero in on the food.
Hu says his restaurants introduce diners to dishes they’ve never had before. A lot of them are loaded with chilies, but that’s not the case at Lao You Ju where we met for lunch. At this spot, the focus is on sophisticated, Hong Kong-style Cantonese cooking, a category that includes dim sum.
Lunch is prime time for dim sum, although at Lao You Ju, in keeping with tradition, it’s served from 9 am-4pm. Hu suggested I try the shrimp dumplings, which meant I could skip options like beef tripe and chicken feet. No problem. I don’t share the current enthusiasm for offal, despite its popularity. Next time ‘round, I’m planning to sample the steamed spare ribs, shui mai, and sticky rice.
The dumplings arrived. My chopsticks skills are mediocre at best, but I managed to save face and skewer a dumpling. It was worth the effort. One bite was all it took to make me forget every other shrimp dumpling I’ve ever eaten. Not only was the dumpling packed with shrimp, but the flavors were delightfully nuanced, especially the subtle burst of heat that emerged as I savored each bite. I’ve had to pull back on the heat level in the last few years, but the seasoning in this dumpling was easy to tolerate. This is definitely “Hu chow” for the faint of palate.
Hu is adding five private dining rooms to the mix at Lao You Ju, each designed to accommodate ten people. They should be up and running by early spring, and I’m looking forward to gathering a group and planning a visit.
Lao You Ju, 2002 S. Wentworth Ave., Chicago, IL 60616 (312) 225-7818