Sometimes you just gotta go for the exotic. When jet setting around the world isn’t an option, where do you go to satisfy your craving for adventure? I tend to seek out ethnic Chicago neighborhoods and obscure eateries where no one speaks English. Lucky for me, my fair city offers plenty of choices. When I got that itch recently, my gal pal and I headed to Chicago’s Chinatown.
I have been to Chinatown on many occasions, exploring shops and sipping bubble tea after consuming noodles or dim sum or hot pot. Every time I am there I think there will be no surprises. Every time I am wrong. Be it the Great Frog Massacre at the butcher counter in the supermarket (yes, frogs lost their heads right before my very eyes) or the gorgeous liquor store that stocks Chinese Bordeaux-style wine, I am never bored in Chinatown. The destination of my recent trip was Go4Food USA, a tiny storefront off the beaten path that calls itself “Chinese restaurant in Chinatown”.
Located on an obscure block of tiny side street, away from Zodiac Square and the main drags of the neighborhood, Go4Food would be easy to miss. DON’T MISS IT. Take my word for it, this place is worth seeking out. From Hundred-Spice Chicken to French-Style Beef Tenderloin to Spicy Tofu to Szechuan Eggplant, the menu here is vast and has lots of options for everyone. But make no mistake: seafood is the name of the game here. After you grab a seat at one of six tables, your eyes will be inundated with mouth-watering images of shellfish dishes on the walls. Posters beckon you with lobster and oysters. TV screens at eye level flash images of crabs and seafood medleys. Anchoring the dining room is a large aquarium where crustaceans await their turn on your plate.
Ask questions. The staff here is very enthusiastic, and at least one of them spoke very good English. It was at his guidance that we selected our menu: the famous French-Style Beef (excellent!), some On Choy in Brown Sauce (a seasonal vegetable, very earthy and delicious!), and three glorious options of shellfish. To start, a GIANT platter of Razor Clams on the bed of cellophane noodles in flavorful broth arrived, and I kid you not, I have never seen a dish this size be called an appetizer. Large slender razor clams were steamed open and topped with fresh scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts. We slurped them, mopping up the broth with noodles. Next came Shrimp in Salted Egg Yolk, truly a revelation. Plump pink shrimp were lightly coated in feather-light batter and gently stir-fried. They were soft and yielding, with a very subtle satisfying crunch on the outside. What made the dish truly special though was the paste of salt and duck egg yolk that coated the shrimp. Rich and unctuous and very eggy, this condiment the color of sunshine was nothing short of spectacular.
But the star of our show was Fusion Chili Crab: a whole dungeness crab hacked up into pieces and cooked in finger-licking combo of chilies, Chinese five-spice, ginger, garlic, scallions and as far as I am concerned–pure magic. The aroma was intoxicating. These crabs were special indeed. While not traditional (Fusion Chili Crab is a proprietary recipe of Go4Food), it was so unbelievably delicious, I could definitely forego the tradition. There is no graceful or lady-like way to eat this dish. You gotta roll up your sleeves and just dive in. Silence fell over our table, interrupted only by the sounds of enthusiastic crunching of the shell. At one point as I looked up from my plate, I saw my very old-school, proper Southern Belle dining companion reach over to the bowl (now empty of crab), scoop the savory fragrant mess of the thick sauce in a pinch with her fingers and pop it in her mouth. We have been eating together for a long time. This woman eats her pizza and hamburgers with knife and fork. FINGERS IN THE BOWL OF PURE BLISS. Yet another surprise brought forth by Chinatown.
As we walked down sun drenched sidewalks of Chinatown, we made a list of all the dishes that we need to come back to try: Dungeness Crabs in Housemade XO Sauce, Seafood Medley in Egg Whites, Lobster, Hundred-Spice Chicken, Clams, Oysters, Fried Silver Fish, Braised Pigeon, Pork Belly… Our list went on and on. So, it looks like I will be returning to Go4Food in the near future. Because sometimes you just gotta go for the exotic.
Go4Food is located at 212 W 23rd St. in Chinatown and is BYOB. Reservations are recommended.
All photos by Gourmet Rambler.