I had barely an idea of what to expect at Northern City, a Northern Chinese/Manchurian restaurant in Bridgeport that opened about a month ago. I'd read some online comments, but based on those I wasn't even 100% certain they had actual seats – you know, places to sit -- in this place. I was thinking it might be little more than a takeout joint. It is a lot more than a takeout joint; I'm guessing it has capacity for a hundred or so.
Arriving with six other friends on a Saturday night, I was glad to see a lot of big tables in a big well-lit room (the better to shoot photos by).
The menu is huge, as it is at so many Chinese places, and I believe that's maybe because there are many interchangeable components across multiple dishes. The chopped sweet peppers can be used in probably several dozen different dishes, same with onion and other ingredients. The beef that's used in one entrée can be precooked and, with a few additional spices, rendered suitable for inclusion in any one of a number of beef dishes. We ordered some Mongolian beef, for instance, that seemed to have spices added in just before (as I here speculate) the generic one-size-fits-all beef was quickly warmed up prior to serving; the spices kind of "sat on top" of the meat. Overall I thought the dish – which seemed to arrive moments after ordering – a disappointment. Maybe that should have come as no surprise.
Ditto the vinegar peanuts, which sounded so cool but which turned out to be what seemed merely Planter's goobers with some soy and vinegar. Cool concept, and I'd like try making my own with fresh green peanuts. So far, I was flat lining, and that lack of upward spikes continued through the pot stickers and dumplings. Ho hum.
[Digression on dining with civilians: one in our group of old friends shot down my suggestion of celery dumplings, which I have resented for days]
We ordered a whole fish in sweet and sour sauce that we really liked. The interior of the fish had been scored, dipped in what I believe to have been rice flour, and quickly fried. The result was a kind of fried forest of little fish posts, really good. This technique maximizes surface area of the fish flesh so you get a lot of crispy crevasses and crannies. I'm no fan of sweet and sour sauce, but on this dish, I enjoyed even that unsubtle glop – though next time I may ask them to hold the sauce and then add the provided chili oil, which was just fine.This fish also looks pretty amazing on the table.
When the Lamb Sautéed with Cumin with Bone came to the table, I got real happy, as did everyone else. Getting the bone-in meat seemed like it would ensure additional fatty flavor, and it certainly did. The slight nuttiness of the spice was a beautiful enhancement to the lush meat, nubby with fat pockets and eminently suckable bones.
[Digression on cumin: cumin is perhaps most known to North Americans through Mexican food. In Morocco, cumin is an everyday condiment; in fact, on tables, there are three-part condiment holders that contain salt, pepper…and cumin. I never had cumin-lamb in Morocco, but it has to be common there.]
Crispy duck was very good, with deep flavor and very crunchy skin (after roasting, the quacker seemed to have spent a few seconds in deep fat, frying away and crisping up).
As we'd had a rather meat-heavy dinner, I'm glad one of our group ordered the stir-fired green beans, which were a fresh and pleasant contrast. After all that animal protein, we needed veg and these beans were excellent.
We ordered a little more than we could eat, and for seven people, the bill for all this interesting chow came to a little under $100, which is fairly remarkable. As Northern City is also BYOB, it's a high-value experience…and well worth the trip.
742 W 31st St, Chicago, IL 60616
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