Austin Baker says there’s a misconception that all Sichuan food is spicy. Baker’s new West Loop restaurant/lounge, 2Fun Chinese, along with Won Fun Chinese—on the first floor—are slated to open on Wednesday on Randolph Street. The food spans from different regions in China with a focus on the Sichuan province.
But that doesn’t mean all diners will be sweating: "Yeah, there is a lot of chili oil and dishes with heat, but there’s a lot of dishes without it," Baker said.
Baker, the proprietor behind Bar Marta in Humboldt Park, is ecstatic about the food. Dishes like ma po tofu and Chongqing chicken still ride high on the concept of mala, the numbing and tingly feeling from Sichuan peppercorns. But those spicy dishes are in the minority on Baker’s menu. Take the Peking Duck, which is dubbed as the "Beijing Style Duck Dinner" on the menu. That’s presented with steamed buns and a duck fried rice made with the leftover trimmings from the bird. If diners sit at the bar on the first floor, they might see a few ducks hanging in the open kitchen.
Highlights from the menu include the spicy dan dan noodles and the Sichuan pork won tons. Up on the second floor at 2Fun, the bar dominates the space. While they won’t offer traditional dim sum service, they’ll still have carts buzzing around the space with an assortment of bar snacks like General Tso’s chicken wings. Traditional dim sum-style paper menus will be available so diners can mark their orders while seated.
Drink wise, it’s off the menu, but ask for the "Miami Vice" which combines the two frozen cocktails, the strawberry daiquiri and pina colada. The beer list includes selections from Three Floyds and Moody Tongue, as well as a house beer brewed by Tribes Ale House and Brewery in suburban Tinley Park. This steam beer is made with Sichuan peppercorns and orange peels.
Baker treaded carefully when refining his concept, concentrating on being tasteful rather than offensive. For example, the wait staff won’t wear uniforms. Some Chinese restaurants dress their staff in clothes that could promote cultural stereotypes, and Baker didn’t want a part of that.
They’ve created a versatile space above J.P. Graziano’s, where diners cans eat a full meal or just stick to drinks. The second floor will also be home to karaoke. They’re working with a DJ: "Right now, we’re at once a month but we might have to increase that because we’re getting lots of requests throughout the week," Baker said.
This West Loop project feels like an entry point toward exploring more Chinese cuisine for Baker. He’s close to signing a lease on a downtown space near Wacker Drive for a noodle/dumpling shop featuring street food. There’s about four bar stools inside the take-out focused spot. The concept will be boisterous, and there’s a Chinese term for it, "renao," which means lively. Additionally, Baker talked about perhaps opening a restaurant that served Chinese-Islamic food. There’s around 22 million Muslims living in China, something many Americans don’t know. That genre focuses more on beef as religious restrictions prohibit pork consumption.
"I like to look for either specific dishes or concepts or cuisines that aren’t really served very well," Baker said. "Even Chinese food—there’s lots of Chinese food in America—and there’s our notion of what Chinese food is, Americans’ notions, but Chinese food is much more diverse than that."
Read the full menu below, as 2Fun and Won Fun open on Wednesday at 905 W. Randolph St.