We have been searching for an authentic Chinese restaurant in or near Streeterville but have not had much luck until recently, when we went to Red Violet on Hubbard St. With a romantic and a bit overly decorated oriental aura, we were a bit skeptical when we walked in. Their menu consists of a modern Chinese side and a more traditional side. The modern side is supposed to be Chinese dishes with an American twist while the traditional dishes looked like they were straight from a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.
Since we wanted the most authentic we could find, we started with the xiao long bao (Figure 1). They are basically little buns, with a burst of flavor inside. Here, they have stuffed them with blue crab and pork, although the crabby flavors didn’t really come through. The best part is that these were made Shanghai style, i.e. filled with a soup broth. Thus, each bite was a firecracker of hot and savory zest. Unfortunately, there were only six, and they cost about three times as much as they would be in Chinatown.
Then came the dish that was our main reason for going here: Sichuan dandan noodles (Figure 2). These noodles are normally cooked with some minced pork, scallions and zha cai, along with a red chili-oil sauce to give it that Sichuan spice. Red Violet served it more like dandan noodles’ northern counterpart, zhajiangmian, a noodle dish that is topped with a cooked, salty, ground pork soybean paste. But then we asked for some chili oil, and six spoonfuls of it did the trick. Just that numbing pizazz I look for in Sichuan food.
Adhering to the Sichuan theme, we also ordered the mapo tofu (Figure 3), a tofu dish that is suspended in a sauce of chili, black beans, minced meat and scallions. Mapo tofu is known for its numbing, spicy hot and aromatic characteristics. Red Violet really got those flavors spot on, especially with the special chili bean paste, but they used the incorrect tofu. They used a silken tofu that is normally used in soups and broths, but mapo tofu should be made with a soft or medium tofu. If they had used the proper tofu, it would have been perfect.
We just had to try something off the modern menu so we got the basil duck (Figure 4), which was an eruption of red, green, orang and brown on a plate. This stirfry was genius because it was lacking that generic, American Chinese stirfry flavor (thank goodness). We gobbled this dish right up!
Red Violet is good if you don’t want to venture to Chinatown, but I really wonder how it will fare with Tony Hu’s Lao 18 opening up tonight just down the street!
- If you want some pretty authentic Chinese food somewhere near the touristy neighborhoods of Chicago, Red Violet is a good place to go.
- Red Violet absolutely overprices their dishes – if you get the dishes in Chinatown, it would be half the price or less. But then again, this is Hubbard St.
I really had to lower the rating because it is honestly just overpriced for Chinese food.