To kick off the NRA Show, Restaurant Business and sister publication FoodService Director joined more than 100 operators for a tour to some of Chicago’s hot new restaurants. This year’s Taste the Trends tour landed the group at Imperial Lamian, the first U.S. restaurant from Indonesia-based Imperial Group. It’s a Chinese restaurant with three master chefs behind the open-kitchen counter that opened a few months ago. The design of the space is all about East meets West, the restaurant said. There’s a mural of a Western bride in traditional Chinese garb, and there are dividers and other decor meant to represent bird cages throughout. The restaurant just launched lunch service, with brunch service coming soon, said a server. And even just out of the gate, there are a number of ideas other operators can find in Imperial Lamian.
1. Server education
Especially as more authentic ethnic places pop up, it’s crucial that servers can explain not only what’s in the food, but how to eat it. At Imperial Lamian, the server stuck around as he served the first dish, Spicy Szechuan Xiao Long Bao (aka soup dumplings). He explained that diners are supposed to grab the dumpling from the steamer with a spoon, poke it with a chopstick, add a little black vinegar (in small bowls on the table), then slurp the broth before eating the dumpling skin. With this kind of authentic food that’s less common in the U.S., having the server offer those kind of explanations not only makes you feel like you’re having a more traditional experience, but it also ensures the food is tasted as the restaurant intended.
2. Showtime…in a real kitchen
Eatertainment no longer means dinner and a performance in one; today’s diners want to know more about their food—and watching it being made helps with that. The open kitchen at Imperial Lamian is one long counter, with several stations, so diners can get a view of multiple styles of the authentic Chinese cooking. And it’s not just the glamorous, fun-to-watch work of hand-pulling the noodles (though that’s definitely a show that diners love to watch); guests can watch the dumpling makers precisely weigh and measure the dumpling filling before stuffing the wrappers, or set timers on the fryers and hear the beeping when the food is fully cooked. Not only is it entertaining, but it’s educational and represents the real kitchen experience.
3. Insta-worthy in our social age
There's been a lot of talk around food porn and making sure food is "pretty" enough to elicit social media posts. Heck, some restaurants are even designing their space with Instagram in mind. So with the increased competition in the food porn space, doing something totally different can really set a restaurant apart. While most of its offerings are pretty traditional, Imperial Lamian veered from the expected dumpling shape with its Pumpkin Puffs. The flavors fit with the other Chinese dumplings—roasted duck and butternut squash—but the presentation added to them intrigued. When they hit the table, camera phones began flashing right away.