It will be disappearing from the Reader's yellow boxes later this very day (though living forever at the Reader website), but inasmuch as the week has been dominated by Michelin madness and talk of the high end of eating, we wanted to call attention to an excursion into the opposite: Mike Sula’s return to the food court in one of the new buildings in Chinatown. We've been to the Richland Center food court on Wentworth just north of Archer (based on previous Sula reconnaissance, quite possibly) and it was kind of a forlorn spot a year ago or whatever it was. But he reports that it's gotten more interesting since then, with "a banh mi purveyor, a noodle joint, and a cafe serving coffee, ice cream, and Hong Kong-style waffles." Most exciting of all for him is Snack Planet, a new stand whose specialty is "shashlik," a Middle Eastern term for skewers that apparently means food on sticks boiled in oil in some parts of China. In his main review here he raves about "a quartet of perfectly cooked quail eggs with a soft, pillowy texture, infused with the slight but unmistakable buzz of Sichuan peppercorn."
But shashlik are not all Snack Planet offers— his favorite thing of all is "Laganma chili paste with beef," slices of beef coated in a particular brand of black bean chile sauce. In a nice touch, he expands on this subject in a blog post which includes several more photos taken by Sula himself, which may not be as pretty as the one in the main article but will more than suffice to make you hungry, even for "crispy black fungus." In any case, as much fun as it is to handicap Michelin season and the high end (and Sula, for all his protests of ennui whenever he has to tackle such a subject, is not immune), we're always glad to see someone dig into the low end and the ethnic variety that makes our dining scene so rich, and blaze a trail for others to follow, even into a forlorn basement. Check it out, or better yet print it out and take it with you when you visit Sula's basement.