PL8 It Up! New Asian Bistro in Barrington

Barrington now has one of the best Asian restaurants around.

PL8 might wreak havoc on my spell check, but it will make your tummy happy while your wallet remains intact.

Located in the Foundry Mall, PL8 simply asian is a collaboration of Shawn Li, owner of TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett, and Ed Culleeney, longtime Lettuce Entertain You partner at Ben Pao downtown. If the food is any indication, this partnership has good feng shui.

The restaurant is modern in black, white and gray with red accents. The booths are roomy and comfortable; the lighting is cool and funky. We especially loved the large topiary rabbits standing sentry over the bar and the hostess stand. It will be a shame when the “Year of the Rabbit” comes to a close next February.

If you have to wait for a table at the bar, you won’t mind. Pull up one of the petrified wood stumps from China and order a refreshing Sake Sangria ($8), mixed with Riesling, coconut-lemongrass water and fresh fruit; or maybe a Barringtini ($8), Ketel One Citroen combined with house-made lemon and ginger syrup. The wine list is small but well chosen as a match for Asian flavors. All bottles are under $40, a rare treat.

Once at the table, do not miss the Chong Ching Noodle Soup ($13), a “signature soup” that served four generously. The nourishing broth was filled with slithery cellophane noodles, tart pickled mustard greens and fresh red chiles; slices of whitefish fillet poached gently in the broth were beyond tender. One of the best soups in recent memory.

Crispy Canton Shrimp ($7), a “small PL8,” featured wok-crisped shrimp tossed with a slightly sweet mayo and toasted sesame seeds; the Tuna and Avocado Sumiso ($6) showcased pristinely fresh diced big eye tuna mixed with ripe avocado chunks and an addictive sake-miso sauce. There is an extensive sushi selection available as well, although we did not partake on this visit.

I’m not a huge pork fan, but their Shredded Pork and Chinese Chives ($13) was a winner. The pork is first marinated, then shredded and stir-fried with smoked tofu strips and Chinese chives. So interesting, and so tasty!

The Wide Rice Noodles ($9) were locally made and crisped in the wok with snow peas, bean sprouts, red bell peppers and onions, all coated with a mixture of soy and hoisin sauces and your choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. The noodles were a little oily, but the chicken was so moist and the whole dish worked so well that we really didn’t care. Down the hatch it went!

If veggies are your thing, you will love the Sichuan String Beans ($9), local string beans with Sichuan preserved vegetables, dried chiles and spicy soy sauce. Each bean was crisp, yet fully cooked; the blend of spice and salt was just right.

The Wok-Tossed Gailan ($9), otherwise known as Chinese Broccoli, was stir-fried with garlic and more soy and hoisin sauces. Perfectly serviceable, but a bit bland next to those delectable beans.

The only fail: we just didn’t get the Black-Peppered Beef ($15). The sauce, billed as “black pepper and garlic” had a weird sweetness that tasted like palm sugar, and the meat was so rich that it didn’t work in the dish. The overall mouth feel was fatty and sweet. I’d recommend using a different cut of beef and taking the sweet element way down.

Happily, we ended with dessert. The menu is short and sweet! The Caramelized Roasted Pineapple ($5) was topped with a scoop of decadent vanilla ice cream; the Fruit Parfait ($5) charmed with chopped Asian fruits (mango, pineapple, fuji apples and lychee) layered with ginger sauce and vanilla-scented fresh whipped cream. Also available, but not tested on this visit: Mochi (ice cream wrapped in sweetened rice paste) and Chocolate-Banana Wontons.

There were many “PL8s” I wanted to try, but didn’t have the chance. A gal can only order so much. But since PL8 is now open for lunch during the week, and dinner Tuesday – Sunday (closed Monday), I have plenty of options. As the Governator said, “I’ll be back.”