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Running Into 4705 Like a Wild Boar

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Feb 16, 2007 7:00PM

2007_02_Chinatown.jpgDoesn't it seem like last year we were getting used to writing "4704" in the dateline of our checks? Chinese New Year is Sunday. 4705 is the year of William Beavers the boar. This means that thousands of people will flock down to Wentworth to watch the pomp and circumstance of dragon processions, fireworks, marching bands, and — since every year is an election year in Chicago — politicians kissing babies, shaking hands, and buying votes making the rounds. Maybe this will be the year Maria Pappas gets confused, walks her baton, and tosses her tiny dog in the air. It also means that the typically long lines outside Phoenix for Sunday dim sum grow exponentially. Last year, we offered some enticing options for dining. We're doing the same this year, along with some other shopping options for cheap cookware and gifts.

After opening to mixed-but-positive reviews last spring, Heat mastermind Kee Chan and the staff at his Chinatown Square restaurant Mulan (2017 S. Wells, 312-842-8282) have stayed the course and slowly tweaked their menu to a perfect balance of Asian fusion and accessible food for Chinatown tourists. The addition of maki rolls is welcome for diners who might lack the adventure to sample some of Chan's more ambitious dishes. Red meat lovers, in particular, will love the teriyaki beef maki roll. Chan's "fresh kill" philosophy regarding seafood also fits in well in Chinatown. Fans of Taiwanese cooking should head to the recently opened KS Seafood (2163 S. China Place, 312-842-1238). This is the only restaurant in Chinatown specializing in Taiwanese cuisine. Drawing upon influences from the Chinese mainland, Japan, and indigenous Formosans, the flavors and textures of Taiwanese cooking are staunchly territorial; some, like the stinky tofu (served here in a more palatable version), are an acquired taste. Many dishes are recognized by what part of the island they originated. In that aspect, it's comparable to how Italian beef in Chicago can seemingly change from block to block. Look for Chicagoist's full review of KS Seafood in a couple weeks.

If you want to spend time in the kitchen re-creating the dishes of Martin Yan, Ming Tsai, or even one of the talented Chicagoist food and drink staff, save some money at Woks 'n' Things (2234 S. Wentworth, 312-842-0701), which sells professional-grade cookware and appliances at a fraction of the cost. We've bought woks, knives, sharpening steel, a mandolin (we'll never use a grater again!), sushi molds, and other utensils here. When the cost was tallied, we still had enough change to get a bubble tea at Ten Ren Tea Time (2446 S. Wentworth, 312-842-1171). The Windy City outpost of this national chain offers boba ("bubble") teas, an amazing breadth of loose leaf and boxed teas, and offers limited seating for groups wanting to enjoy an afternoon or evening tea service.

If you're looking for gifts, but don't want to buy nunchucks, bamboo, or poorly transferred Jet Li films, head to Hoypoloi (2235 S. Wentworth, 312-225-6477). This small storefront and gallery sells decorative glass, jewelery, interactive puzzle art, ceramics, and music. Some of the gifts may seem cheesy, but the unique options outweigh them. The space is cramped near the front door, but you can get lost for hours inside browsing.