If you’re getting over the Coronavirus, have I got the place for you. Yes, it’s a Chinese restaurant, or Chinese by way of Hong Kong, located in Chicago’s West Town, called Lao Peng You. This means “old friend” in Chinese, a nod to the fact that this spot serves the nostalgic grandma cuisine of owners Daniel and Eric Wat’s childhood.
Duck blood and other mystery meats. Despite the fact that I would like this to be the name of my future band. It is not. Rather it’s a descriptor of my first-generation Polish childhood, of the tripe-filled Sunday visits to see my babcia and dziadzia (grandma and grandpa).
I’m officially done with tasteless beef. Part of this is I’m getting older, and I recognize that, despite pretending to court cardiac arrest in some of my writing like it was a hot prom date, arteriosclerosis, unlike Donald Trump’s promises to make Mexico pay for a border wall, is a real thing. I’ve already seen some of the best minds of my generation stented and statin-ed.
Despite pimping black truffle-stuffed pasta or whiskey cocktails infused with bacon, most chefs don’t crave the things they purvey at their restaurants. After years of reporting, I’ve found a chef’s desert island meal is more like a Miller High Life and a piece of fried chicken.
Sometimes when I dine out, a song pops into my head that perfectly describes the experience. In the case of WonFun—the new West Loop Sichuan Chinese spot from Bar Marta vets Austin Baker and executive chef Ben Ruiz—that song is “Last Nite” by The Strokes. The song is about a breakup, but that’s not to say that WonFun is a great place to drop your sweetheart. I generally get hooked by melodies and rarely listen to lyrics. Julian Casablancas growls like a mumbling drunk, and a jangly guitar riff inspires me to head to the nearest darkest bar, put White Stripes on the jukebox, do shots of whiskey and dance until I fall over. Which is funny because I don’t dance. But “Last Nite” is the kind of song that makes you feel like you’re in the right place no matter where you are, the kind of song that makes you want to do stuff you don’t usually do. Stuff you might have to explain to a lawyer the next day. WonFun inspires the same wanton abandon