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CLOSED. New Chinatown Mall restaurant specializing in hot pots.

Our Review

James An of the great Yunnanese restaurant Spring World is the man behind Tao Ran Ju, a splashy new spot on the lonely eastern edge of Chinatown Mall. Here he's specializing in hot pots, with individual induction burners built into each place setting. This arrangement eliminates group quibbling over the choice of five individual soup bases, more than four dozen vegetable and meat add-ins, and an overwhelming array of condiments. But it also removes the most intimate and essential communal aspects of hot-pot cookery, which is said to date back to the days of Genghis Khan, and frankly, it's a pain in the ass to dunk and keep track of the progress of the pot without the help of your tablemates. Still, if you want your own customized dried shrimp seafood broth and you want it with a la carte golden needle mushrooms, goose intestine, tofu puffs, and lamb slices—and your partner wants no part of that, preferring spicy soup base roiling with dried chiles and dates, Sichuan peppercorns, and star anise, with fresh scallop, caraway, and pig's blood—then this might be the place. If not, though, don't write Tao Ran Ju off by any means. Its greatest strengths—and there are some great ones—are found elsewhere on the menu. The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) represent a significant advance for Chicago. The dough still tends to be a bit too thick, but inside each a meatball (pork or crab) swims in a pocket of hot, steamy soup. In several visits I wasn't dealt a single soupless dud. The house special beef soup (niu rou mian) is one of the most fantastic noodle dishes I've had in Chinatown, loaded with long, thin, chewy noodles in a tangy broth with big, tender chunks of beef and a garnish of pickled vegetables. An has also duplicated his cold appetizer bar from Spring World, offering a selection of any four for $4.95, an astoundingly good value. There's also a large selection of heavily seasoned grilled kebabs—lamb, beef, chicken, pig's feet, quail, and more—a couple skewers of which will run you $3-$4. There are better places for hot pot in Chinatown—the all-you-can eat Mandarin Kitchen, for one—but Tao Ran Ju's secondary offerings make it a destination.

Mike Sula

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Price: $
Payment Type: MasterCard, Visa

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