At a time when hyper-local, farm-to-table menus dominate Chicago’s dining scene, River North’s newly opened Imperial Lamian is taking a much longer journey to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to the city.
The restaurant is the first U.S. operation from Indonesia’s Imperial Group, and it’s serving up an elegant and focused tour of dim sum, lamian noodles, and wok dishes in a sophisticated space at 6 W. Hubbard Street.
Many of the ingredients, techniques, and even the master-chef level talent you’ll find in Imperial Lamian’s kitchen traveled the 10,000-mile journey from Asia as a means to preserve the integrity and flavor of authentic Chinese cuisine.
“It took several weeks for us to source and import the ingredients that we wanted,” said Vincent Lawrence, CEO of Imperial Lamian. “Initially, I was frustrated with our chefs. I was like, dude, it’s freaking soy sauce! But, I’m glad I supported them because the flavors are just amazing.”
At the heart of the restaurant’s concept – and at the center of its chic River North space – you’ll find hand-pulled lamian noodles.
Every night behind a glass wall bordering an expansive open kitchen, master chef Wang Hong Jun repeatedly stretches and slams a simple lump of dough until it forms a massive, unbroken noodle strand that is trimmed and cooked fresh to order. The technique is an art form that Wang spent a lifetime studying in Lanzhou, China, where lamian noodles first became popular.
The effect is a noodle that is al dente but also absorbs and takes on flavors from accompanying broths, such as the braised pork belly or beef brisket lamian dishes.
The same meticulous care is brought to Imperial Lamian’s xiao long bao program, considered among Chicago’s most extensive with six different varieties of the popular soup dumpling. Lawrence says it’s essential for the xiao long bao to be paired with Chinese black vinegar, which is a restaurant staple his chefs are very particular about importing in order to maintain an authentic flavor.
But while Imperial Lamian goes to great lengths to execute traditional preparations and flavors, at least one dish benefitted from the journey from Jakarta to Chicago according to Lawrence: the pork-filled Shanghai xiao long bao.
“The pork here in Chicago is amazing! The protein is so much better here that our pork xiao long bao taste even better than the ones we have in Asia, to be honest.”