Dining review: Unique, flavorful Chinese on the menu at Palatine's The Dream Place
The Dream Place in Palatine has only been open three months but is already making a splash on the local dining scene. The restaurant offers a full slate of Chinese food with some options we don't normally see in this area, like sea cucumber and pig's ear. There's a full bar as well; make sure to check it out before you leave -- the colors on the bar itself change and there's a wall-length light-up mural of the universe just to the side that kids will love watching.
For our appetizers, we ordered a selection of old standards and new dishes we'd never heard of: the egg drop soup; the won ton soup; the hot and sour soup; the lamb and cilantro dumplings; the chives, pork and shrimp dumplings; an order of egg rolls; the wood ear mushroom salad; the five flavor beef; and the Szechuan pig's ear slices. As soon as the food came, it was obvious we wouldn't have much room for main courses -- every appetizer (aside from the individual soups) came with plenty to share.
The egg drop soup was unique to any others I'd had. Instead of just the typical broth and egg, this one also had tomatoes, tofu and baby shrimp. It didn't change the flavor much from typical egg drop soup, so just beware if you're allergic to shellfish or don't like tomatoes or tofu. The other soups were the typical versions. We enjoyed the dumplings; the chive, pork and shrimp ones were a delightful and unexpected shade of purple and went heavy on the shrimp and chives, but overall had a nice mild flavor. The lamb and cilantro dumplings were a table favorite. They were slightly sweet with robust seasoning and not an overwhelming amount of cilantro -- just enough to know it's there and have it play well off the lamb. The egg rolls were equally good, packed tight with a lot of flavorful meat.
Then we forayed into the unknown. My favorite of the appetizers was the wood ear mushroom salad, a refreshing mix of large wood ear mushrooms, garlic, a vinegary sweet sauce and a selection of almost pickled vegetables. The mushrooms were slightly rubbery but had a nice bite to them. The five flavor beef came served cold, with very dense but tender slices of meat. It was slightly spicy at first, but we found ourselves wishing there was a bit more oomph from the five flavor seasoning; we didn't taste much of it at all.
The Szechuan pig's ear slices were way out of our comfort zone. They came cut into thin strips that looked almost like bacon, mixed together with sesame seeds and a spicy sauce. The texture was off-putting -- crunchy but not crumbly and slightly rubbery. We were glad we tried it anyway.
For our entrees, we ordered the cashew chicken, the twice-cooked pork belly, the walnut shrimp, the filet with black pepper sauce served on a hot plate, the salmon braised in soy sauce, and an order of crispy duck for the table. The cashew chicken and the twice-cooked pork belly were the favorites of the table, both cooked perfectly and very flavorful. The cashew chicken came in a brown sauce that was lightly peppery with a little soy kick, and the cashews were plentiful and crunchy. The tender pork belly was cut like bacon and came with a slightly spicy chili oil sauce. Both dishes could do with more vegetables like mushrooms or carrots, but otherwise they were excellent. The walnut shrimp was cooked well, lightly breaded with a tempura-style batter, and glazed with a slightly citrusy sauce.
We enjoyed watching the filet come out of the kitchen -- it's served on a sizzling platter with peppers like fajitas. The sauce was delicious, like a thick beef gravy or comforting stew, and chunks of fresh ginger added a nice punch throughout the dish.
We also enjoyed the order of duck. It was crispy and flavorful, but be ready to pull out a lot of bones from the meat. It wasn't deboned before being cooked and chopped.
We were sadly disappointed with the salmon. Although the sauce was mild and not overpowering with soy, and the mushrooms and vegetables were big and cooked nicely, the salmon itself was really overcooked and not too appetizing.
The presentation of all the food, without exception, was spectacular -- the salmon was even arranged with the vegetables to look like a fish. We also liked the service, which was prompt and friendly. All orders were taken on a tablet at the table, we never worried about empty water glasses, and we were able to pay in a timely manner. Overall it was a nice dinner experience that I will likely repeat.
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The Dream Place
1280 E. Dundee Road, Palatine, (847) 359-9999
Entrees: $9-$45; Peking duck service is $39-$59
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.