Yup, me neither…
How did we live without highly customizable and addictively flavored fast food joints? It’s like the universe knew Americans needed a fresh way to get our Mexican food fix and now we’re all positively addicted to Chipotle!
So when I heard Wicker Park had a spot combining everything I love about Chipotle with truly authentic yet still accessible Chinese food, I was SOLD! My father traveled to China 30+ times in his business career, always coming home going on and on about the brilliancy of true Chinese cuisine. He would constantly search for spots to get his fix back here in the States but beyond Chinatown there wasn’t ANY spot serving Chinese cuisine like what he ate in Shanghai (if only Yum Cha had been around when he was alive).
Long story short, I grew up knowing (and practically breathing) the difference between “American” chinese cuisine and REAL chinese cuisine. So when Starr and I walked through the doors of MAK: Modern Asian Kitchen, I was insanely curious over HOW authentic the food would actually be and, more importantly, how tasty! MAK dubs itself an Asian Food Revolution — and revolutionary it really is! Starting with the infamous “chorks” (fork + chopsticks = chorks!) every dish is served with. You can use them as traditional forks or split them up to eat your meal with an innovative yet authentic chopstick flair. Much like Chipotle’s long line of ingredients, MAK has a long front counter jam-packed with hot sizzling woks ready to serve up some tasty food! I’m a hot sake lover by heart but the moment I saw this Gekkeikan Cap-Ace Sake in the beverage fridge, I knew what I’d be sipping on for lunch.I mean how cute (and innovative but I know I’m seriously over-using that word in this post) is this design? Pop off the white cap, flip it over and you have yourself the cutest sake sipping cup! Who ever is the genius behind this design — I salute you!We started out with a few appetizers…
Like these sweet Chicken WANGS (I do love some witty, food-related word play): crispy fried with sweet and spicy sauce. These are one of MAK’s most popular dishes and it’s easy to see why. Deliciously savory chicken lollipops are the best messy finger food!
We also tried MAK’s most popular vegetarian appetizer: Veggie Falafel in the same “wang” sauce as the chicken. Made with edamame and chickpeas, these pool-ball sized delights were surprisingly crunchy, spicy and unique. The edamame was such a brilliant way to tie in the asian flavors while remaining a true falafel at heart. Next came our entrées!
Complete with chorks! My absolute favorite dish was the General MAK Shrimp: lightly fried shrimp tossed with a tangy glaze. MAK’s tagline for this dish is “similar to general tso’s, but better”.
Oh…. so much better! I’m a General MAK convert after this dish! The sauce was spicy, sweet, zingy — everything you want in a wok sauce all coating the juiciest fried shrimp I’ve had in a long time. Positively addicting! We ordered a side of these beautiful green beans…Blistered and scorched yet crispy and saucy. They were delicious and certainly worth trying on your next visit to MAK — I could have eaten the whole bowl myself if Starr had let me!
Our second entrée was the MAK Beef: steak stir fried with scallions in special sweet garlic sauce all served with spicy cabbage slaw. Starr loved the savory flavors in the beef while I pounced on this kimchi-style cabbage slaw and promptly annihilated it. Order the slaw!! Trust me. Then we tried a dish that MAK owner Tommy Wang claimed was the only way he ever liked to eat eggplant. As someone who isn’t a particular fan of eggplant myself I was intrigued to try this dish — anytime someone tells me they don’t like the main ingredient except in a certain dish, my curiosity always gets the best of me and I order the dish!
Luckily this MAK Eggplant Skillet of lightly fried eggplant tossed with bell peppers and onions in a savory sauce over rice was brilliantly done with no enormous, soggy pieces of eggplant to be had!! We ordered this dish with a side of the zesty cucumbers and I couldn’t believe how addicting they were too!
We also ordered one of the most traditional sides: Tangy Chinese Bean Sprouts. Don’t let their possibly unappetizing appearance fool you — these beans pack a serious WHOLLOP of flavor. Of everything we tried, I think my father and his staunch love of traditional Chinese cuisine would have fallen hardest for these humble little sprouts!
Funnily enough as I reflect on our entire meal, many of my favorite dishes were actually the perfectly executed vegetable side dishes. Each side was brimming with authentic Chinese flavor but in a seriously accessible (and addicting!) way. I honestly don’t think I could choose a favorite between the spicy cabbage slaw, the blistered green beans or the zesty cucumbers. Oh but dessert — you know I hardly ever pass it up and though MAK only has one sweet offering, it’s so EPIC you shouldn’t dare miss out!
Their MAK Donuts are simply fried dough balls rolled in Five Spice or Black Sesame and sugar. When I was very young my grandmother used to make us “homemade” donuts by poking holes in pre-made biscuit dough and frying them until golden. My sister and I had the important task of waiting for the fresh donuts to finish frying then dropping them into paper bags with sugar and shaking them around to coat them.
Seriously simple… seriously delicious.
And I’ve never had a dish that brought back the nostalgia of my grandmother’s donuts more than MAK’s. But the addition of the Chinese spices added a brilliant zing and pop of flavor and I can truthfully say of all the dangerous new addictions MAK has ignited for me, these may very well be the worst offender!
Speaking of dangerous, did I mention MAK delivers?
Yup… you’re about to be in some serious Asian Food Revolution-style trouble too!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.