By Julie Mullen
Special to Courier News
New restaurant Houses Chinese and Japanese kitchens Under one roof
Couples who can’t decide whether to go for Chinese or Japanese now may satisfy both food cravings at one sitting.
The owners of the new TL’s Four Seasons Chinese & Japanese Restaurant combined their expertise as restaurateurs to offer area residents the best of both Asian cuisines under one roof. Two complete kitchens can be found within the new restaurant, with two groups of chefs and two distinct menus. And they come from miles around to experience the masterful cooking of Chef Bo, according to TL’s Four Season’s owner Shawn Li.
“He was very well-known in China and had his own cooking show there,” Li said. “He’s been over here two years, working in Chinatown. I told him about the restaurant and he said he would come. I knew his salary was high in China and I was a little worried. But it worked out OK.”
Sushi master Chef Nashimoto greets guest with a nod from behind the 12 –seat sushi bar, as he skillfully slices the freshest fish to be found, such as Norwegian salmon.
“We only use the best fish for our sushi,” Li said. “Norwegian is the best salmon there is since in cold water the fish are fatter.”
Sushi has increasingly become more popular – and not just in big cities anymore. Suburban dwellers are getting their raw fish delights at nearby places like TL’s Four Seasons, which is located in the heart of downtown Bartlett.
“Sushi has become much more mainstream now,” Li said. “There are many more places now to get sushi. But some places will use frozen fish, where we only use fresh.”
Li and his partner, Tony Zeng, aren’t at all new to the restaurant business. Owning Asian restaurants in Bloomingdale and St. Charles and eyeing their next one in Glen Ellyn, the pair says they know just what customers want and don’t want.
“We didn’t think that a Japanese restaurant alone could sustain itself in this area, which is why we decided to add the Chinese menu,” Li said. “Our business has been about 60 percent Chinese and 40 percent Japanese.”
Besides traditional Chinese courses, Chef Bo offers some signature dished, like Szechwan scallops and the popular black pepper garlic beef tenderloin.
From the Japanese kitchen are the traditional chicken and beef teriyaki, tempuras and sukiyaki entrees. Noodle soups, a lunch favorite, round out the meals.
“Unlike some Japanese restaurants, we have our grill in the kitchen,” Li said. “But people can sit and watch the sushi be made.”
The downtown building housing TL’s Four Seasons formerly was the Shultz Hardware Building. Most of the tightly knit shops along Bartlett Avenue are historic structures, although Li said that his building is relatively new since it was torn down and replaced a few years back.
TL’s Four Seasons can accommodate up to 90 people and offers a full-service bar. Lunches run $4.50 to $6.50, except for the lunch sushi bar which runs $7.50 to $10. Dinners come in huge portions and are reasonably priced from $8 to $21.
“We want to have good prices,” Li said. “We give generous portions and focus on quality.”
© 2005 Digital Chicago & Hollinger International Inc.
By David Sharos
Daily Herald Correspondent
Japanese, Chinese cuisines come together in hot entrees,
tasty sushi at adventurous TL’s Four Seasons
Having lived over half a century. I’m already reflecting on some of those do-overs in life should I get another opportunity. One of the things making that list is to immerse me more in the Japanese/Chinese culture, the Zen thing, the meditation, yin, and yang, the self-defense disciplines uniting the body and spirit.
Then there’s the food. I noted in a previous restaurant review that my own yardstick measuring Chinese cuisine began with a little carry-out place on the South Side of Chicago. The stuff inside those classic white cartons was hot, fresh and relatively cheap.
Then I went to TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett and discovered the cuisine of Chef Bo Xu, who has cooked meals at the finest hotels in the Szechwan province for the president and governors of China, competed for three years in national cooking tournaments and authored a book. Suddenly, that yardstick has changed.
“We don’t make our food with a lot of sauces that cover up the individual flavors,” said owner Shawn Li, who later explained the nature of Xu’s cooking. “A lot of the Chinese or Japanese food people eat here is Americanized. In China, you can’t get things like egg foo young or fortune cookies or even chop suey. Some people there would regard that as garbage.”
Yikes! I’ve eaten tons of that stuff, but as we made our way through the menu, my companion and I discovered more about this cuisine than we had ever realized.
Li has blended two distinct food groupings into his menu. One side of his cardboard paper-type listing contains Chinese cuisine – a “harmonization of mix and match” as he calls it – including classics like Kung Pao, sweet and sour, Mongolian orange peel, fried rice and stir-fry dishes. You can also order “Chef Bo’s Recommendation” list which includes chicken, beef tenderloin, red snapper, garlic chicken and other dishes.
Flip the menu over and you enter the Japanese world, with teriyaki, tempura, sukiyaki and katsu dishes, plus a separate list of sushi entrees, amazingly prepared by another “Icon Chef,” Nashimoto Matasaka, a 28-year veteran who was also drafted by Li.
“We have an excellent staff here, who were willing to leave their country and come with me to this restaurant,” Li explained. “We have all become the best of friends.”
We visited the restaurant on a Friday night and were immediately impressed with the fresh and modern appearance of TL’s – named after Li and his partner Tony Zeng, who oversees another eatery in the Western suburbs. Yellow walls and light colored wood add an almost urban feel to the place. A glass-enclosed vestibule allows diners to wait inside, where pictures and biographies of the two master chefs are proudly displayed.
A bar area is found immediately inside, and there are tables running parallel to the sushi bar at the far end of the restaurant where diners can watch Matasaka make his artful little rolls.
Our meal began from the Chinese side with crab Rangoon and crispy shrimp and from the Japanese side some tempura shrimp and vegetables. The Rangoon came folded up with four corners pinched together and stuffed with savory cheese. We asked about the presentation, and Li told us the crispy pockets were formed that way to “add more crunchy bites” to the dish.
I loved the tempura, which was served piping hot with a light and crunchy coating. The two shrimp were enormous and probably my favorite of all the appetizers we ate. Seasonal vegetables dictate what will accompany the shrimp, and our choices were green pepper, an asparagus spear, and broccoli.
The sauces provided were thin and not all that flavorful, but don’t make that a deal breaker.
We also enjoyed the crispy shrimp, which came dusted with sesame seeds. A sweet coating enveloped these tender beauties and added richness to the dish.
Sushi has never been on my playlist, but following the “when in Rome” edict, we decided two jumps in and order a Sakura roll and something called a “Hand Grenade.” It turns out that sushi is not just about raw fish, and the Sakura roll came with shrimp, crab, cream cheese, cucumber, and then was layered with avocado and a warm mayonnaise sauce. My dining companion nearly polished off the whole thing herself and proclaimed it one of the best things she had eaten in a long time.
The Hand Grenade (sorry, I have to say it) exploded with flavor and featured a prawn and baby shrimp wrapped in seaweed and covered with a spicy garlic mayonnaise and some fiery seasonings. It sat atop an orange slice and deserves points for flavor as well as presentation. If you’re as much of a neophyte about sushi as I, try these dishes.
For dinner, we chose two dishes from the Chef Bo list, including black pepper garlic beef tenderloin and a Szechwan scallop dish. Both were served with soup and some sticky rice.
Li told us his food costs are “at least 30 percent more” than other restaurants. Based on the quality of his products, he may be right. The garlic beef dish was made with Black Angus and was spicy but incredibly tender. Like all the dishes, this came without sauce to ladle over the rice, which had a nutty and sweet taste.
The scallops were also among the best I’ve tasted. No gritty or rubbery texture and each of the silver-dollar-sized medallions was about three-quarters of an inch thick.
I was impressed with the quality of the food products used here from top to bottom, given how low the prices at TL’s actually are.
Dessert consisted of a few unique items, including a sesame rice ball filled with red bean paste, and a sweet potato yarn cake made with steamed and mashed potatoes, sticky rice powder and lotus flavor. We drizzled some of the accompanying honey over both of these which enhanced their subtle flavors.
We also tried some Japanese ice cream – light golf ball-sized scoops of the usual dairy product uniquely wrapped (again) in a light sticky rice coating.
This allowed us to pick up the vanilla and mango-flavored ice cream we order and almost eat it like a cookie. All of these choices may seem odd to the American pallet, but that, after all, is the point.
Eating should be more than just something to stay alive, and for the adventurous veteran as well as the uninitiated, the dining experience at TL’s is unique and stimulating. A crowd of regulars has already discovered the place; we saw Li calling out names to dozens of patrons who visited that night. With Bartlett firmly committed to its new Town Center development, this should be a welcome eatery with solid support for a long time to come.
© 2005 Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.
Fans of authentic Chinese and Japanese food may have found salvation at last in Bartlett, thanks to TL’s Four Seasons, a veritable tour-de-force of dining experiences that includes regional dishes and a first-rate sushi bar manned by artisan chefs.
Cooking is overseen by master chef Bo Xu, a nationally renowned craftsman who has cooked meals at the finest hotel in the Szechwan province for the President and governors of China, competed in national cooking tournaments, and authored a book. Given that pedigree, how can you go wrong?
Owner Shawn Li has worked with Bo to constantly update dishes as well as continue to reproduce local favorites. For appetizers, try the crab Rangoon and crispy shrimp, along with some tempura shrimp and vegetables. From the sushi bar, even the uninitiated will enjoy the “hand grenade,” which features prawn and baby shrimp wrapped in seaweed and covered with spicy garlic mayonnaise and some fiery seasoning. The sakura roll, which comes with shrimp, crab, cream cheese and cucumber layered with avocado and warm mayonnaise sauce is also outstanding.
I’ve visited TL’s no less than four times this past year and enjoyed dishes like Szechwan scallop dish with silver-dollar sized medallions three-quarter inch thick, as well as Xu’s signature dish, black pepper garlic beef tenderloin, which won awards back in his country.
By Wendy Kummerer
TL’s Four Seasons Japanese and Chinese restaurant served up a culinary adventure last week for some of the finest chefs in the Chicago area.
The Club Chefs Association of American SHOULD BE AMERICA? honored the Bartlett eatery that opened just eight short months ago, as the chosen spot for the group’s monthly dine out experience.
“Not even in Chinatown can you get some of these dishes. There is no other restaurant in the Midwest that is this great and that includes service, quality, and presentation.” Said Don Smith, Club President and chief at St. Charles Country Club.
Once a month the members of the Chicago chapter of the association treat themselves to the culinary mastery of one of their peers. They seek the most sought after area chefs that offer a delectable dining experience and enjoy someone else cooking for a change.
“I love Asian food so much. Since I’ve been president, we’ve gone to sample a few. We recently visited Heat in Chicago, and 10 West in Naperville.” said Smith. “The dine out is about camaraderie and gives us a chance to exchange info, trade secrets, and enjoy a night off with a great meal with our wives and friends.”
Twenty exclusive members of the club were treated to a 16-course OTHER PLACES IT SAYS 17 feast prepared by Chinese Master Chef Bo who once cooked for Chinese royalty and Japanese Chef Nashimoto. The evening gave the duo a chance to show off their talents and culinary expertise for their peers.
As diners arrived they looked on in awe at the intricate details of the centerpiece, an eagle, and phoenix carved from gourds representing strength and good fortune. What followed was an assortment of textures and flavors expertly prepared that took eating to a whole new level. From their signature entrée of beef tenderloin and snow mountain shrimp to the eel rolled in sesame seeds and fried frog legs, the party was impressive as each dish outdid the one before. They were also treated to Tiger shark fin, seven-flavored chicken, dragon hair beef and a “Happy Family” stew that includes squid, sea cucumber, abalone, ham and bamboo shoots that were slow cooked over 14 hours. All delectable to look at and savor to eat.
For restaurant owner Shawn Li it was a great treat to let others experience what he already knew; he offers exceptional food that you cannot get anywhere else.
“When I heard the group chose my restaurant I was happy and excited. I have always been very confident and know I have great chefs. We just need a chance to show off. For the regular customers, there isn’t enough time. But, for this meal we prepared for a week,” said Li.
The chefs Club was treated to items not regularly on the daily menu. However, other customers have the opportunity to choose from many dishes that combine the authentic flavors and favorites from the Chinese and Japanese kitchens, allowing diners to mix and match textures, flavors, and delicacies of the Orient.
Chinese Chef Bo is one of the most talented chefs in China, receiving superior ratings in Szechwan cooking for 16 years running, awarded top honors at nationwide cooking tournaments and has appeared on China’s nationwide cooking shows. Chef Nashimoto brings over 28 years of experience that began at his family-owned restaurant in Tokyo, regarded as one of the finest in the city. The Japanese cuisine features entrees tempuras, teriyakis, and a sushi bar.
TL’s Four Seasons restaurant is located along the Metra railroad line in downtown Bartlett.
By Jason Pawlowski
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,
is a quote from the famed Chinese Philosopher Confucius.”
While the context of those words sounds like something out of a garden-variety fortune cookie, the meaning behind the words could not ring more true for Shawn Li, proprietor of TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett.
Since its grand opening in October 2004, TL’s has not just taken steps to becoming one of the hottest dining spots in the downtown Bartlett area but giant leaps forward towards becoming the premier provider of the finest Chinese and Japanese cuisine in the entire Chicagoland area.
“Our customers are very supportive,” he says. “They are very open-minded and open-mouthed. They tell you what they like and they tell you what they don’t like.”
The “journey” for Li began back in his native Chen Du, the capital city of the Szechwan Province in Central China. After obtaining his Bachelor’s Degree in International Trade from Szechwan University he went to work for a newspaper. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to other ventures including helping a friend build up an advertising agency.
The next step in Li’s journey was when he arrived in Chicago five years ago. A friend of his bought him dinner at one of Chinatown’s many restaurants.
“I ordered several dishes, as is custom in China,” he says, “and when the waiter brought the food I asked him, “is this what I ordered?”
It was then that Li realized his destiny: bring the real flavors of Szechwan and Japanese cuisine as well as the cooking and dining culture to Chicago with bigger portions, better quality, and lower prices.
The Sushi Bar of Bloomingdale was the first of two successful ventures Li and his partner undertook. However, the menu only consisted of Japanese food where he really wanted a place where people could enjoy the wide spectrum of tastes from both Japanese and Szechwan dishes.
After a friend, Phil Ernest, referred him to the vacant building adjacent to the one he owned, and after extensive research, Li decided to bring his dream to Bartlett area.
He enlisted the help of Chef Bo, a close friend and very popular chef also from the same Szechwan province of Chen Du. Bo’s list of past accomplishments included a cookbook, numerous TV appearances overseas and even preparing several meals for the President of China.
Negotiations were tough but in the end, their friendship helped seal the deal – that and providing Bo with the tools he needed to succeed including a 20-foot long custom jet burner wok at a pretty hefty price tag.
Chef Nashimoto is TL’s other head chef. Li labels Nashimoto as a very serious worker.
“Nashimoto always is experimenting,” he says. “He is always saying he can never be satisfied. He can always do better.”
Both Bo and Nashimoto were recently honored with medals by the American Chef’s Association as the Best Chinese/Japanese Chefs Under One Roof for 2005.
According to Li, there are 4 key elements in Chinese cooking: aroma, color, flavor, and texture.
“Authentic Chinese food is the best,” he says. “Because of the history, presentation, and style.”
Despite averaging 15 hours a day, 7 days a week manning the TL’s ship, Li is quite pleased with the success of TL’s Four Seasons. When not working he does find time to enjoy the finer things. He is an avid movie buff, a big reader and a fan of the music of all styles. His wife Zhan, who lives in China, is Vice President of a top Chinese Company.
Li says he requires very high standards, both of himself and his staff, in all aspects of the restaurant from service to food preparation to cleanliness to the overall atmosphere.
“From a standards perspective,” Li says, “we are the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago. No one can offer fresher food and no one can prepare it better.”