Last week, it was a series of dumplings from Oak Park and Libertyville. This week, some memorable Szechuan cuisine in a Palatine strip mall.
The regulars know which dishes to get at The Dream Place, because while they can choose from an extensive menu with dishes from all over China, they know where the kitchen's strengths lie.
"Mostly from Szechuan style and Northern style," said Xiao Lin, owner of The Dream Place.
EXTRA COURSE: Xiao long bao - soup dumplings - at The Dream Palace in Palatine
For the Szechuan dishes, that means lots of chiles and Szechuan peppercorns, which produce a tongue-numbing sensation, unique to the region.
"Actually, that's part of the beauty of the Szechuan pepper that they make different flavor," he said.
Do Ban fish comes either in fillets or whole, blanketed in a spicy sauce laced with chilies, soy bean paste and Szechuan pepper, while their twice-cooked pork features thinly-sliced pork belly, tossed with dried and fresh chilies, plus a handful of leeks. Eggplant gets the same treatment - the cook has an arsenal of sauces and spices at his disposal - and the Szechuan eggplant is truly one of the best anywhere.
Lin said believe it or not, the Popcorn Chicken is among his most popular dishes, due to its combo of crunchy, salty, spicy and chewy. A mound of dried chilies is its calling card.
"It's top one we sell from here. Mostly, American customer when they try it they love it so much because they create a different flavor without any other restaurant," said Lin.
Obviously not everyone's idea of a dream meal involves spicy food, but there are plenty of other things on the menu here at The Dream Place. Things from the Cantonese menu or even the North - xiao long bao, soup dumplings - from Shanghai, if you didn't want to have something super spicy. But if you do like the heat, what a great way to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Gong Hay Fat Choy.
The Dream Place
1280 E. Dundee Rd., Palatine