Tom and I arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening, just in time for dinner. And we already knew where we were headed -- one of Tom's favorite restaurants, Big Bowl.
The big bowls are, indeed, enormous -- they're about the size of a cantaloupe! And while you can use them to pick meats and vegetables and sauces for a stir-fry that the chefs will cook up for you on a blazingly hot griddle, there are also menu options to choose from so that you can just stay in your seat and enjoy the ambiance and the presentation and the aromas and the flavors and all the wonderful sensual experiences of the restaurant.
Now, we all know that decision-making -- when faced with a menu, at least -- is not my strongsuit; I'm too good an eater and I like too many things, and I can hear everything calling to me, trying to seduce me. So first I perused the griddle options ... then I looked over the Thai dishes ... then the Chinese ones vied for attention ... I could hear the Yellow Curry dish whispering to me, beckoning me ... then the appetizers, designed for sharing, sang their Siren song ... then my head started to spin. I always want one of everything, but even I can't eat that much!
So Tom guided me towards the shared dishes, and we ordered the mandatory potstickers that he has eaten before when he's taken his daughter, Cassidy, to the restaurant. They were so fat and happy, almost over-stuffed with chicken and vegetables; and it was just utterly impossible to determine whether they were more luscious dipped into the sweet-and-sour sauce, or the mustard sauce, or the fruity mustardy sauce, or some combination thereof. An exceptional start to what turned out to be a truly memorable and extraordinary meal!
Our waitress was friendly and charming, and asked if we'd ever been to the restaurant before. I explained that Tom had but I hadn't ... and a few moments later, she brought the lovely dish pictured at the top: Chicken Summer Rolls. One luscious tidbit for each of us, nestled in a warm (spice-wise, rather than temperature) peanut-chili sauce -- a taste to sample for the newcomer and her handsome date. They were fabulous, stuffed with lots of fresh vegetables and featuring distinctive tastes of chicken, wrapped in perfectly cooked (not sticky, as they can sometimes be) rice paper wrappers ... sigh.
And everything else we ate and drank that night rose to the same level of excellence. We tried a fresh ginger drink that I stupidly forgot to photograph in my giddiness, which was clear rather than yellow-tinted and lacking in carbonation. It came in a tall, simple yet elegantly distinctive glass, and was almost like drinking a gingery water -- highly recommended, it's a festive drink for those who don't imbibe.
Dinner itself, for which we'd chosen two dishes to share, consisted of more summer rolls (which we'd decided upon even before receiving our lovely sample); this time we relished vegetable and salmon ones for more taste opportunities, and I truly don't know whether I could decide upon a favorite among the three varieties I tried. Crispy, crunchy, astoundingly fresh, perfectly cooked, utterly delectable ... they were amazing dipped into the plum and sweet-and-sour sauces provided. They were also divinely delicious when dipped into a bit of the leftover peanut-chili sauce from the sample plate, which I ended up putting on everything I ate!
Our other dinner option was a deceptively simple platter of chicken-vegetable lettuce wraps. A very generous serving of the filling -- with layers of flavor and a variety of soft and crunchy textures -- is offered with crispy rice noodles and gorgeous lettuce leaves; you then take as much or as little of the filling as you want, drizzle it with a bit of the hoisin sauce, perhaps add a bit of crunch with some noodles, and wrap it all up in a beautiful leaf of fresh lettuce. I've made something similar before, but not for many years ... I'd forgotten how much fun and how delicious it could be!
Big Bowl provided one of the most lovely meals I've ever enjoyed -- a perfect welcome to Chicago, a wonderful new place to enjoy when I go back to the city again, and an ideal place for a date when you're on a weekend escape (our first trip together, no less) with your sweetie ... :) I absolutely cannot recommend it highly enough!
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