Monday, Jan. 26 marks the Lunar New Year in Asian cultures. Commemorate the start of the Year of the Ox (traits of which include leadership, prosperity and hard work, in case you were wondering) at local restaurants that will be celebrating the holiday in style.
Flat Top Grill locations will be serving "good luck foods" throughout January to usher in the new year. When choosing the ingredients for the make-your-own-stir-fry, select mushrooms, seafood, peapods, water chestnuts, tomatoes, Chinese yellow noodles and Thai red curry for luck, prosperity and fertility. Six Flat Top locations throughout the city and suburbs will also present traditional lion-dancing festivities on Monday, Jan. 26 (Evanston, Old Town and Lakeview) and Tuesday, Jan. 27 (Oak Park, Lombard and Naperville).
At Opera in the South Loop, Monday, Jan. 26 kicks off a five-week series highlighting different types of regional cuisine throughout China. Chef Beverly Kim will create special menus with appetizers, soups and/or entrees from Beijing (Jan. 26-Feb. 1), Schezwan (Feb. 2-8), Canton (Feb. 9-15), Shanghai (Feb. 16-22) and Hainan (Feb. 23-March 1).
The four Chicagoland Big Bowl locations (River North, Gold Coast, Lincolnshire and Schaumburg) are featuring a special menu and several activities in honor of the new year. A "good luck" menu offering oxtail as a star ingredient will be served from Thursday, Jan. 22 through Monday, Jan. 26. In addition, dinner customers on Friday, Jan. 23 will get to roll the dice -- whatever number comes up will be deducted in dollars from the check (gambling at the new year is symbolic of fortune). At 10AM on Saturday, Jan. 24, the Gold Coast Big Bowl will host a free dumpling-making cooking class (dumplings represent wealth and prosperity). All guests on Sunday, Jan. 25 will receive birthday gifts such as complimentary appetizers, cookbooks and even a $100 retail gift card (buying new things symbolizes fresh starts). All kids will get a customary "hong bao," red envelopes containing a dollar bill for good luck. And finally, on Monday, Jan. 26, all diners born in a Year of the Ox will receive a complimentary lunch or dinner.
Kohan, a Japanese restaurant in University Village, is highlighting its extensive sake list, available by the glass, bottle and flight for the occasion. In addition, each diner will receive a Korean rice cake soup (known as a "Ddeok Guk"), a traditional new year's dish that is said to add one year to your life for each bowl eaten, so slurp up!
At Karma, a chic Pan-Asian restaurant in north suburban Mundelein, chef Robert Packer has created a special menu to celebrate the Year of the Ox. Using Chinese symbolism as his inspiration, Packer's New Year's dishes include "Prosperity" (a crispy pork won ton, which represents strength, wealth and abundant blessings), "Happiness" (lobster in a sweet-and-spicy sauce, symbolizing joy) and "Luck," a tangerine creme brulee because the Chinese word for tangerine sounds similar to "luck." Hey, it's not a perfect science.