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HAN 202 Brings Fine Dining For Dummies to Bridgeport

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jun 22, 2009 5:00PM

605 W. 31st St. in the wunnerful Bridgeport area has been home to a succession of mediocre to downright awful Italian restaurant concepts over the years, most recently Trattoria 31, which came out of the gate like gangbusters only to be lapped by the field. So when we saw that a Chinese restaurant was opening in the space we thought, "It can't be any worse than what's been there before"

Little did we know that the chef behind HAN 202 (named after the year the Han Dynasty began its rule, the year 202 is also noted as the beginning of Chinese cuisine) was Guan Chen of Evanston’s Restaurant Guan. Guan is used to making amazing food in the most inconspicuous of places, so that little nugget made us take notice. Another thing that made us curious was the concept and price: a five-course dinner of pan-Asian cuisine for $20, with all the accoutrements of fine dining — beautiful presentations, four-star service, an amuse bouche served before the dinner and clean silverware with every course, which should make Phil Vettel a very happy fellow. If Guan’s gonna go down with this ship, he’s going down swinging.

Amazingly, it works and works well.

Take, for example, an amazing cold Japanese-style tofu, nestled in a pool of red wine vinegar and soy sauce and topped gingerly with watercress sprouts that had the texture of a crème brulee. Or a julienned green apple salad tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper that was so simple you could make it at home. Add capers, truffle oil and beef seasoned with lemongrass and that same dish is reborn. The entrees are probably the most recognizable part of the menu for folks accustomed to lunch buffets on Wentworth, but even these are transformed by Guan. A duck breast with Sichuan hot bean sauce stood out not because of the ingredients, but the presentation: the breast was a perfectly cooked medium rare and not sliced before serving. We can’t remember the last time a whole breast was served to us. It’s details like this, in addition to the concept and price tag, that make HAN 202 one of the more unique restaurant openings of the year.

In a neighborhood dominated by carryout joints that specialize in breaded steak sandwiches, having a place like HAN 202 open can be downright frightening, if not a foreign concept. But if ever a neighborhood needed a restaurant that actually gave a damn about something besides “gravy bread” and “red sauce,” it’s Bridgeport. The service, interior and price also makes a great primer for budding gourmands on a budget. If it stays BYOB, HAN 202 should be a can’t miss. It’s also accessible via public transportation Orange Line to Halsted, catch the 44 Wallace/Racine Bus and get off at 31st. See, we even gave you directions. Now haul your asses down there and find out for yourselves.

HAN 202 is located at 605 W. 31st St. Reservations accepted and, at this point, might be required. RSVP to (312) 949-1314.