Walking into the sleek, modern vibe at PL8, we knew we were in for good a night out. Certain elements create a chic, urban atmosphere, like the dark exposed ductwork of the ceiling, the side of a full-sized shipping container reading “China Shipping” mounted on the wall, petrified wood stools lining their half-height bar, and large hanging platform lighting in the shapes of circles and stars, and a trio spelling PL8 in recessed light bulbs.
The first dish to arrive at our table was the Spiced Tuna & Wonton Crisps. The wontons have a delightful fryer crunch and are topped with the soothing flavors of tuna and sliced avocado. A combination of bright and biting tastes round out the dish from blood orange, pineapple, cherry chilies, and pickled shallots and scallions. The lasting impression, however, comes from the combination of sauces on the plate: a cucumber jalapeno salsa and BBQ eel sauce that leave a lovely, subtle spiciness on the tongue.
Also from the Small Plates menu, the Crab Rangoon Chopsticks are a delicious variation on the classic, deep-fried dish. The decadent cream cheese filling is the central flavor, elevated by touches of scallions and crab meat. As opposed to the traditional dumpling presentation, the PL8 version has the delectable filling rolled up inside crisp wonton wraps, taquito-style, adding more crunch to every bite. They’re perfectly paired with sweet and sour sauce.
We next dove into two of Chef Chris’s amazing sushi rolls. The Red Dragon Roll is spicy tuna, jalapeno, and avocado topped with tuna, honey wasabi mayo, red dragon sauce, eel sauce, tempura crunch, and masago, lightly torched. It’s an irresistible combination of spice, crunch, and smooth tuna taste. The Fireworks Salmon Roll delivers a sushi experience with a barbecue bent. It’s a spicy salmon and cilantro roll topped with Scottish salmon, BBQ eel sauce, mayo, and a housemade sesame chili oil, with each segment separated by a tissue thin slice of lemon. The barbecue flavor is fantastic against the fresh seaweed and salmon and resolves in an unexpected creaminess. The lemon slice ends each bite with a perfect pucker.
The Thai Basil Shrimp is reported to be the most popular plate on the menu, and we soon found out why. It’s grounded in the fresh flavor of wild caught shrimp enrobed with a fried, breaded exterior. It’s filled out by the herbaceous punch of whole thai basil leaves, cilantro, red onions, roasted peanuts, and cherry chilies in a housemade citrus chili sauce. It all comes together as an incredibly bright, light, flavorful, and filling dish. Our new favorite shrimp presentation. The incredible fragrance of the Black Peppered Garlic Beef hit us as soon as it neared the table. This dish is not for the faint of heart. The ingredients are very simple: cuts of beef tenderloin in an unbelievable black pepper and garlic sauce. As a garlic lover, it is absolutely the most intense concentration of garlic flavor I’ve ever experienced. Tender beef and broccoli florets soak in a pool of minced garlic nirvana. Between the dazzling dark tones of this dish and the lightness of the Thai Basil Shrimp, we got the polar opposites of flavor profiles all on one table.
For dessert, PL8 partnered with Barrington area establishments that specialize in bakery and frozen custard. The Lemon Charlotte Cake came from the husband and wife team at Ambrosia Euro American Patisserie. It’s made up of layers of vanilla sponge cake, lemon mousse, lemon curd, and lady fingers, and topped with a scoop of Black Raspberry Custard from Julie Ann’s in Crystal Lake. Fantastically sweet and packed with creamy vanilla and fresh fruit flavors, it’s a wonderful way to call it a night.
Every February, PL8 goes all out to celebrate the Chinese New Year. A large, blinking, Chinese parade dragon roams the entire room after a short burst of fireworks in front of the restaurant. He eats fruit and vegetables offered at various tables and rears up aerobically on his hind legs as a trio of traditional drummers pound an insistent rhythm in his wake. Mark your calendars for next year, because it’s simply too fun and festive to miss.
PL8 is located at 736 West Northwest Highway in Barrington, 847-382-1988, pl8simplyasian.com