Restaurant focuses on flavors of Szechwan

February 6, 2008 12:25:00 PM PST
Thursday is Chinese New Year so ABC7's Hungry Hound is going to take a closer look at the regional cuisines within China. He begins with an exploration of Szechwan for some truly spicy food. There's nothing like a bunch of spicy food lovers gathering around heaping plates of authentic Szechwan fare. The latest restaurant to focus on the famed region is easy to miss along Cermak Road in Chinatown. Double Li is the result of owner Ben Li's passion, as he attempts to turn diners on to his spicy, native cuisine.

"I think in Chinatown people like spicy food. A lot of American people like spicy food right now so that's why I want to do like a real Chinese food right here," said Ben Li, Double Li. "The first time the customers come in they will ask 'is your chef from Szechwan?' Yea, otherwise they will go out."

But when they see dishes like twice-cooked pork belly, jammed with stir-fried leeks.. or mapo tofu, saturated in chilies and oil, they'll know they're in the right place.

One dish that's a must is the black pepper garlic beef tenderloin: slices of tender beef are quickly deep-fried, strained, then deep-fried again; once they're finally cooked, lots of garlic and oyster sauce are heated in the wok, eventually joined by the cooked beef and plenty of fresh black pepper, which is literally pushed into the beef while it cooks.

Crunchy garlic salt-and-pepper shrimp begins with flash-fried shrimp; once removed, rice noodles are tossed and stir-fried in the wok, and then they're removed; finally, garlic, scallions and peppers are stir-fried, then tossed along with the cooked shrimp. Both items are plated over the cooked noodles, and while it's considered a "mild" dish, Li says he can always tailor the heat levels, depending on the customer's tolerance level.

"First I will ask the customer, 'Do you like spicy? How spicy do you like?' Then I make it. If you don't like spicy we'll make a non-spicy food. Some customers are like, 'I want it real spicy!'"

Now of course the hallmarks of Schezwan cuisine are the chiles. You can tell they're not messing around here because you spend a couple of minutes in the kitchen and you can smell and taste the vapors of those chiles in the back of your throat. It's a very good thing.

Steve says another good bet for authentic Szechwan fare is at Lao Szechwan which has locations in Chinatown and Downers Grove.

Double Li
228 West Cermak Road