Another Thursday means yet another ChineseBites meal. Hey, I ain't complaining. A comped meal is nothing to laugh at, especially when you are allowed to order whatever you want. That was the case at Ken's Chinese, where, in addition to featuring their signature award-winning dishes, we were let loose on the menu. Personally, I think that is the best way to evaluate the food at a restaurant since most people order what they want (rather than a predetermined menu). Actually, the ultimate method is just to try EVERYTHING on the menu (actually, we practically did that at Kibo), but alas, Mijune wasn't around... As usual, the eating crew consisted of myself along with Kevin, Rick, Alvin, Grace, Romina and Janice as well as our host Raymond.
We started with their CRA-winning Golden Dungeness Crab which was fried and then tossed in a coating consisting of salted duck egg yolk. Certainly an interesting visual and an even more interesting taste. The best way to describe the flavour would be an egginess with an underlying mild saltiness. Definitely not a flavour explosion, more like a slow rumble. It was certainly prepared nicely and fine to eat, but I'm not sure if I would classify it as a winning dish in my opinion. Next up was their other CRA dish being the Lobster with Konyaku Hot Pot. This was an almost perfectly prepared dish (nothing is perfect remember!). The lobster was meaty and fried just enough with a well-balanced sauce that had the right mix of salty and sweet. On the other hand, the sauce was a touch greasy and I really couldn't understand why adding some konyaku could make this another CRA-winning dish. Still, bottom line - it was a tasty offering.
Getting past the signature dishes, we were able to sample quite a few items off their regular menu. The first to arrive was the Free-Range Chicken. The chicken was mostly moist and tender with the trademark chewiness consistent with this type of poultry. I found it to be on the saltier side which meant it was fine eaten plain (without the condiment). The skin was a beautiful golden yellow and was gelatinous and appealing. There was also a nice layer of gelatin beneath it. Something that one would not necessarily associate a typical Chinese restaurant was the Grilled Rack of Lamb with Black Pepper Sauce. You see, Ken's also doubles as a Hong Kong-style cafe of sorts because they offer an array of dishes which are consistent with that type of restaurant. Now, if you look at the picture, I can honestly say that it was plated far nicer than what was shown in the menu picture. The lamb was fantastic. It was moist and tender with a nice caramelizing sear on the outside. I suspect that the lamb was tenderized, yet it didn't compromise the end product. The black pepper sauce was peppery and full of flavour.
The dish that I had my eye on and proceeded to order as my choice, was the Stewed Pork Hock with Peanuts. This arrived with an attractive shade of brown which looked rich and full of depth. The pork hock was moist and the fat was gelatinous. It lived up to its appearance with a rich flavour of brown sugar sweetened dark soy. Normally, I am not a huge fan of peanuts in any of my food, but these worked here. They had a soft texture and soaked up the stewing liquid. Another similar item was the Stewed Oxtail which was less successful in my opinion. The biggest issue was that the whole dish was not prepared in one shot. Rather, the oxtail and veggies were combined with the sauce after the fact. Hence, the carrots and peppers were still quite firm and did not take on any of the flavour properties of the stewing liquid. Interestingly, the cubed daikon was pretty salty and was obviously boiled before being added. The oxtail itself was in large pieces and could've used a touch more stewing. It was not chewy or hard per se, it just didn't detach from the bone as easily as I would've liked.
The most sinful dish of the meal was the Dong Bao Yewk or stewed pork belly. Naturally, the darn thing was super fatty, yet due to its preparation, the thing melted in our mouths. And I really mean that. The slow and low braising process rendered the fat into something that was easily eaten and forgotten as to what it was. The sauce was a good combination of rich sweetness (from the use of brown sugar) and saltiness (from the soy sauces) with a definite hint of rice wine. On that note, the sauce could've been even more rich (but that might not be possible considering the amount of time it is required to do so). Now for our next dish, it was all me. Really it was. When we were looking over the menu, I noticed that they had the prototypical "choose your meats" mixed grill meal a la HK-style cafe. Of course, I was drawn to the Ox Tongue... I asked if anyone wanted any tongue and that drew the usual snickering and weird looks. I was serious though and I requested an order of it with a serving of tongue for everyone! Laced in the same black pepper sauce as the lamb, the tongue was moist and tender. Oh yes it was... I took charge and offered it to everyone. Too bad it wasn't a beurre blanc sauce, then it would've been French tongue!
Romina was a bit worried with the high meat content of the meal and ordered our only vegetable dish being the Four Seasons Green Beans. The beans were still crunchy laced with enough tender ground pork, garlic, chili flakes, preserved vegetable and seasoning to create an impact. Lastly, we had the Dried Scallop and Salmon Roe Rice. The rice was pretty dry with some hard pieces. The copious amount of dried scallop added both flavour and aromatics (yet there could've been more seasoning). Interestingly, I enjoyed the regular items more than the signature dishes. That's not to say they weren't good though. All-in-all, the food was mostly properly prepared and seasoned.
*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*
- Generally good execution
- Lots of variety, including HK-style cafe options
- Reasonable pricing
- Is it just me, or are the CRA signature dishes overrated?