Long life, prosperity and bounty - you don't have to break open a fortune cookie or rub Aladdin's lamp this week to be granted all three wishes - you can eat your way there. It is Chinese New Year once again, and this week's Forecast offers up plenty of edible options promising fortunes for foodies ready to ring in the Year of the Rabbit. Chinatown is the obvious destination, and you'll probably see me at either Shui Wah, Lao Szechuan, Phoenix, Triple Crown or Tasty City, but if you're looking for, how shall I say, a more mainstream, slightly less ethnic experience, you've got some options in the city and suburbs as well. From noodles, fish and dumplings, to dragon dances, rolling the dice and red envelopes full of cash, all ensure 4709 to be one lucky and delicious year. Gung hay fat choy!
A Bountiful 2011 at Big Bowl
It is the Year of the Rabbit – one of the luckiest signs of the Chinese zodiac - and Big Bowl's Chinese New Year lineup of festivities to ring in 4709 ensures a prosperous year for everyone. The annual celebration - Feb 2 through Feb. 6 - begins with Executive Chef Marc Bernard's menu of specials inspired by fortuitous foods the Chinese traditionally eat for a bountiful new year. Menu items include "long life" noodles with Sichuan rabbit and chive blossoms, and crab wonton with BBQ rabbit soup, promising good luck, fortune and bounty for all. Each table will also be given complimentary spicy roasted peanuts to kick-off the evening. The Chinese name for the legume translates into "longevity fruit," making it an ideal snack for traditional New Year wishes of a long life. The five-day celebration includes:
Good Luck Gamble
February 2 – Chinese New Year's Eve
Each table can take a chance by rolling the dice this evening as gambling is symbolic of fortune for the New Year. Whatever number comes up will be deducted in dollars from the check.
February 3 - Chinese New Year's Day
On the first day of the New Year, all guests born in the Year of the Rabbit will receive a complimentary lunch or dinner . Rabbit years include 1927, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987,1999 and of course, 2011.
Happy Birthday to Me
The Chinese New Year calls for acknowledging "everybody's birthday," a time when birth and renewal are celebrated. All guests will receive a hóng bāo (lucky red envelope), with a gift certificate for $10 or $25 to Big Bowl, or a card for a complimentary appetizer, dessert, housemade ginger ale or bottled Big Bowl sauce, tucked inside. As customary in Chinese families, all children will receive a hóng bāo with a crisp $1 bill.
Make Way for Dumplings
February 5, beginning at 9:30 a.m.
Dumplings represent wealth and prosperity, and complimentary cooking class on making the doughy treats will be offered at two locations. All participants receive a complimentary bag of dumplings.
Rounding out the festivities, the Chinese believe that giving more will lead to more good luck. Oranges are especially significant during the New Year, and because the color symbolizes gold while the word ‘orange' in Chinese sounds like wealth, in their honor, Big Bowl will donate up to $5,000 in proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation from the seasonal blood orange ginger ale sales.
Big Bowl is located at 6 E. Cedar Ave., Chicago, (312) 640-8888; 60 E. Ohio Ave., Chicago, (312) 951-1888; 215 Parkway Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 808-8880; 1950 East Higgins St., Schaumburg,(847) 517-8881. For more information on Chinese New Year customs, superstitions and recipes, visit www.BigBowl.com.
Celebrate at Sunda
The Year of the Rabbit signifies luck, tactfulness, and thoughtfulness, as well as a time when families reunite to celebrate long life, prosperity and health. From Jan. 31 through Feb. 6, Sunda honors the New Year custom with traditional Chinese dishes offered throughout the week. The family-style meal, designed to be shared, starts off with hot and sour soup, a dim sum duet “from the heart” of shrimp or vegetable spring rolls, and sticky rice (sweet rice wrapped in lotus with mushroom, shrimp and chicken). Main dishes include ruby prawns (secret glaze, honey, bell pepper, scallion), beef shortribs (black pepper sauce, caramelized onions, broccolini) and pineapple chicken (chicken, sweet and sour glaze, peppers). Sides and dessert are included as well. The Chinese New Year menu is available for $40 per person. Live performances of the Dragon Dance will also take place in the dining room on Thursday, February 3 at 7pm, bringing good fortune to all. Sunda is located at 110 W. Illinois Street. For more information, visit sundachicago.com.
Bao at Ben Pao
Ben Pao is also ready to usher in some extra luck and good fortune with its annual Chinese New Year celebration beginning Jan. 28 through Feb. 13. Guests will enjoy custom cocktails made with fresh squeezed juices and infused liquors, and specials including xiao long bao (traditional dumplings with broth inside), long life noodles with char siu pork and a hot and sour whole crispy fish (dinner only). Each dish again representing foods that ensure a fortuitous New Year – noodles for long life, whole fish for prosperity and dumplings for bounty. The traditional lion dance – similar to the one performed in Chinatown – will take place Feb. 4 and 5 at 6:30 p.m. The performers will begin outside to scare away bad spirits and then weave through the restaurant bringing good luck and an upfront view to guests tableside. Ben Pao is located at 52 W. Illinois St. Reservations can be made by calling 312-222-1888.