A variety of Asian tastes — Chinese, Thai, Japanese — come together at this unique Barrington hangout, owned by two longtime faces in the Chicago food scene.
Ed Culleeney and Shawn Li share a passion for Asian cuisine. The pair own PL8 (that is, Plate), 736 W. Northwest Hwy. in Barrington, a popular lunch and dinner restaurant that opened in 2011.
“We’re an Asian restaurant that combines Chinese and Japanese, with a hint of Thai influence,” says Culleeney. “We redevelop traditional Chinese offerings that people may not be aware of, or have never tried.”
Culleeney spent 27 years with Lettuce Entertain You, managing restaurants including Ben Pao, the popular Chinese restaurant. “I’ve studied it all, and I love the food,” he says. In addition to PL8, Li also owns TL’s Four Seasons in Bartlett. The pair met through a mutual friend and hit it off immediately.
“Shawn would come down to Ben Pao, and I’d show him our system, and then I’d take my chef to Four Seasons and see him,” says Culleeney. “When Ben Pao closed, we talked about ways we could combine my love for food with his incredible knowledge.”
A local advertising agency came up with the name PL8, a clever moniker that plays on a number considered lucky in Chinese culture. The restaurant is located within The Foundry of Barrington, an upscale shopping center featuring unique and specialty boutiques, shops and restaurants. “We’re a destination location,” says Culleeney. “We definitely rely on word of mouth.”
The extensive dinner menu includes a variety of dishes: soups, classic and signature meals, noodles and rice, vegetables and nigiri, sashimi and maki. Customers can choose between familiar fare such as chicken teriyaki and Mongolian beef, or one of many original signature dishes, including the black-peppered garlic beef – a sweet tenderloin stir-fry surrounded by fresh steamed broccoli – and the Shanghai scallops, with blackened chilies, ginger and scallions served with shredded snow peas.
There are monthly specials, wheat- and gluten-free items, and a kids’ menu. Tasty desserts include chocolate banana wontons, milk chocolate and banana folded in crisp wonton wrappers, served with vanilla ice cream; happiness mocha, a soft rice cake filled with ice cream; a cheesecake spring roll; coconut tapioca parfait; or chocolate treasure molten cake.
“I’m most proud of our food,” Culleeney says. “The key is in the ingredients. We use all-natural chicken, salmon and tuna. Anyone can do the food, but you can elevate it with better ingredients. If someone doesn’t want Chinese, we feature the sushi element. We have a wide variety on the menu that keeps people coming back for more.”
PL8 hosts several special events throughout the year, including a Saki dinner on the patio, and an event called Oritila, a pig roast paired with Italian wine, which sold out last year. February is a big month that features a weekend celebration of the Chinese New Year, a traditional Chinese Lion Dance with a special performance from the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center dancers, and a “Feeling Lucky Weekend,” when customers receive lucky red envelopes, traditionally given in China to children from their parents for good luck, with a chance to win restaurant gift certificates. Any guests born in the “Year of Snake” receive $8 off their bill.
Most of PL8’s customers are locals – Barrington, Palatine and Algonquin residents.
“It’s the total package,” Culleeney says. “Customers love the food, and they like the décor, which is very urban-like. It feels like a city restaurant. We take pride in what we do here.”
PL8 is open Tues.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. noon-10 p.m., and Sun. 3-9 p.m.