Vincent Lawrence, the CEO of the Indonesia-based restaurant company Imperial Group's new Chicago offshoot, says that before ramen, there was lamian—a claim borne out by the Oxford English Dictionary. Lamian is hand-pulled noodles from Shanxi province, portioned, stretched, and boiled to order at restaurants like the upcoming Imperial Lamian (6 W. Hubbard St., no phone), Imperial Group’s first American venture—but not its last, Lawrence hopes.
Chefs make dough the night before and then stretch long, round noodles by hand for each order. Customers can also order noodles shaved off a giant dough ball. They’re still developing the menu, but noodle options will look something like four different broths and meats like roast duck or pork belly.
Imperial Lamian will also serve dumplings, including the obsession-inspiring soup dumplings called xiao long bao. And dim sum as well—Lawrence pledges new and unique dishes you probably won’t find in Chinatown, but he won’t promise specifics until they work out sourcing.
In Indonesia, Lawrence’s native country, Imperial Group has more than 20 restaurants under seven brands. Imperial Treasure, for example, serves high-end fine dining with exotic ingredients such as abalone and shark fin. He chose the more approachable Imperial Lamian to launch an American empire. “We need to build a reputation. We need to start making followers,” he says. If ramen stays anywhere near as trendy as it is now for Imperial Lamian’s planned fall opening, they’ll at least have customers.