For those of us who loved Great Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant, located on 2910 Carpenter Rd., its passing left a huge hole in the local restaurant scene, and in our hearts. Fortunately, two of Great Lake’s staff – their head chef and a veteran server – bought Lai Lai and have revived most of Great Lake’s menu. The Hong Kong dishes, inventive Chinese cuisine with an abundance of interesting ingredients, including seafood, unique vegetables and a variety of noodles, are back.
They aren’t doing dim sum, and they aren’t maintaining tanks of live seafood, but the rest of the dishes have triumphantly returned. They’ve repainted their space at the Ann Arbor Square Plaza, but the key is their menu of authentic Hong Kong dishes, done just as they were at Great Lake.
Lai Lai offers the usual range of Americanized Chinese dishes as well – and they might be really good; Great Lake did the best Lemon Chicken we’ve had – but we didn’t review those. We focused on the Hong Kong-style food for which Great Lake was famous, and for which Lai Lai will definitely become known.
Rolled Noodles with XO Sauce – thin sheets of tightly-rolled rice noodle dry-fried to a smoky char with XO sauce (a commercial spicy Hong Kong sauce made from dried seafood and chilies, it’s relatively expensive due to its ingredients).
Potstickers – pork-filled dumplings pan-fried to crisp perfection on one side; Lai Lai’s have a thinner noodle wrap than most and great flavor.
Pan-Fried Noodles – these sound mundane, but they’re not! It’s a pancake of thin egg noodles that’s been fried in oil, so the edges are crispy and the interior is soft, with whichever topping you order, stir-fried then baptized in an indescribably flavorful brown sauce. It’s available with chicken, beef, seafood, sliced pork, or mixed seafood and meat, all equally excellent.
Braised Noodle – also called long-life noodles (they’re long, and hence symbolic), these are flat egg noodles with a slightly spongy texture, stir-fried in a broth with black mushrooms until the liquid is absorbed. They’re a personal favorite of ours, and were on our wedding banquet menu at Great Lake years ago.
Beef with Rice Noodle and Vegetable – wide, flat rice noodles are a hallmark of Hong Kong cuisine; in this saucier version of the dish, they’re covered with tender stir-fried beef in a brown sauce and pleasantly crisp Chinese broccoli. We have friends who order this every time.
Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper – slices of beef tenderloin, stir fried with onions in a slightly sweet brown sauce flavored strongly with black pepper. A personal favorite of Joe’s.
Pork Ribs in Special Sauce – you may not think of ribs when you think about Chinese cuisine, but here, falling-off-the-bone pork ribs are cooked in a sweet-salty tomato-based sauce with black beans (as in “black bean sauce”) giving it richness. That same “Special Sauce” appears elsewhere on the menu too.
Squid with Spicy Salt – slightly chewy pieces of squid, deep fried in batter and then tossed with finely minced peppers, garlic, onions, and salt, this is not spicy but flavorful. There are also versions with mixed seafood, shrimp, or egg tofu. Make sure you stir this around, because without the salty-peppery mix, the individual pieces can be bland.
Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp – deep-fried shrimp in a honey and mayonnaise-based sauce, surrounded by crisp darkly-caramelized sugar-coated walnuts; very tasty and addictive. They will also make this with scallops if you ask. One of the sweetest dishes on the menu, but great.
Sichuan fish pot – a ubiquitous Sichuan dish in a slightly Hong Kong-ized version; perfectly cooked sliced fish combined with silky tofu chunks in a spicy broth. Less spicy, but somehow richer, than what you’d see at a Sichuan restaurant. Kind of homey, even. A new addition, this is not even on the menu, so you’ll have to ask for it.
Stir-Fried Mixed Seafood, Lotus Root, Chives, Silver Fish with XO Sauce – a complex name for a complex dish, combining deep-fried bits of seafood tossed with crunchy-crisp batons of lotus root, sticks of chive, and little tiny dried fish, flavored with rich, salty XO sauce. This wasn’t on the Great Lake menu, but it’s become a favorite.
Lai Lai isn’t fancy, and it isn’t large, but they can accommodate groups of 8-10 at their round tables. It’s kind of out of the way in the back corner of a strip mall, but people have found it; its small, brightly-painted dining room is packed on weekend nights, and they do a bustling take-out business. Note well, though: the dishes we’ve listed are best eaten hot and fresh!
4023 Carpenter Rd
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Phone: (734) 677-0790 | lailaiypsilanti.com