Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lao Sze Schuan (Hot Pot)

I went to Lao Sze Schuan a few months ago and got what I considered to be Chinese food (Mongolian Beef, Orange Chicken, etc). I noticed that some tables had these interesting boiling pots of soup on their table but didn't pay much attention beyond that. Over the summer I worked with She-Yan, a medical resident in the lab. She seemed to find it very humorous that I'd never had "real" Chinese food, and that everything I called Chinese food was some kind of chunked fried chicken in a brown sauce. She read my post on Lao Sze Schuan and said we had to go back for the real deal, the Hot Pot. So last week She-Yan, myself, and a crew of NMH residents headed to China Town.

Lao Sze Schuan is one of the most popular restaurants in a huge strip of similar style places. This tells me it must be pretty good (plus it's always nice to have people of the restaurant's ethnicity eating there). It gets really crowded, and it's a bit annoying that there's no where to stand while you wait for your table. I discovered two things on this trip. First, they take reservations. Second, they have a whole other room upstairs which doubles their seating capacity.

Our service was pretty good, and it helped that She-Yan's husband Mike took care of ordering everything without reverting to English. The cost is very reasonable and comparable to other Chinese places for the regular entrees. I don't know how to compare the cost of a hot pot, but it was about $18 a person.

The Food
For those of you that don't know what a hot pot is, it's basically soup-based fondue. The meal started by them setting up two large portable burners on our table (2 because we had 10 people). Then they brought out two large bowls that we each split in two. Each side was filled with a broth (spicy or regular) and vegetables. The soups were brought to a boil, and the trays of protein came next. The first tray was mostly seafood. There were fish balls, mussels, prawns, white fish fillets, tripe, squid, octopus, and meatballs. The meat tray came out with stacks of sliced beef and lamb. There was also some watercress and lettuce with the fish tray. When we finished the proteins, we dumped a bowl of rice noodles into the broth and ate it like noodle soup.

The Hot Pot

The Fish Tray

 The Meat Tray

The broths were both really delicious. The spicy broth wasn't too overwhelming but had a good kick that complemented some of the blander fish. Some of the proteins like the tripe, squid, and octopus were on the chewier side, but that's what you expect with them. The meats came out like steaming hot pieces of roast beef. My favorite was the fish fillet. The key was that everything soaked up tons of the broth. While those flavors were strong throughout the meal, each protein complimented them differently.

If you're not adventurous then this isn't for you. Also, you've got to be able to put up with a pretty large amount of salt since you end up getting a lot of broth by the time you finish. A huge piece of advice is to be patient after taking your proteins out of the soup. I obviously was not patient and burned every bit of my mouth and tongue. My take on Hot Pot is that it's a great social experience that lets you have a fun and interactive meal with friends, but the flavor profiles can only go so far. Ultimately you're getting flash boiled meats and fishes even with an interestingly flavored broth.

As far as the restaurant goes, you can either get an authentic experience or an Americanized one. Each way is pretty flavorful, fun, and reasonably priced. I must stress again that whatever you wear will reek of Chinese food. I'm giving Lao Sze Schuan 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Lao Sze Chuan on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants


  1. haha i actually experienced this when i was in china....when they brought out the covered dish of protein, we took the lid off and the prauns and shrimp were still alive and started jumping all over the place and my mom let out the loudest scream imaginable.
    but awesome that you got found a place like this in the city. authenticity!

  2. They do this pork dish covered in chillis--or at least they used too, back when I lived in Chicago before--that I still dream about. So good. It's also where I learned to like tripe...but only when it's spicy.

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