Don't let the dim-sum parade pass you by at New Kowloon
Seattle Times restaurant critic
So there I was in the Chinatown International District, starved outta my gourd on a late-September Sunday, when I found myself doing what I always do there: driving around and around in search of a parking spot and a bowl of soup noodles. With stomach growling and parking karma not forthcoming, an idea struck: Why not head up Jackson Street to check out that new joint, New Kowloon? Surely I could cadge some soup noodles there and (Beam me up, Scotty!) a slot in the adjacent Pacific Rim Center parking garage.
Smooth move. New Kowloon, open since August, offered free parking galore — and more than a dozen soup-noodle incarnations ($4.50-$8.95).
But as I perused the menu, trying to decide between barbecue duck wonton and seafood wonton noodles, I was driven to distraction. Not by the boisterous crowd of Asian families surrounding me in the spacious, banquet-style dining room, but by the array of dim sum parading past my table.
This show-and-tell of shareable savories ($2-$3.20) arrives via stainless-steel carts whose attendants entice by lifting the lids of steaming baskets and calling out the possibilites ("shrimp ball, shu mai, sparerib, sticky rice"). Pointing to colorful wares on small plates, they intone: "hom bao, egg roll, stuffed pepper, gai lan." Pushing vats of steaming rice gruel ("Congee, yes?"), they ladle this Cream of Rice-like breakfast standard into bowls garnished with bits of meat and green onion, offering batons of fried dough on the side. (Congee, yes. Stale Chinese doughnuts, no!)
Dining alone is no fun when the dim-sum cart comes calling. Wanting for company but feeling no shame, I gave in to the come-on, sampling a few of my favorite snackables: shrimp-stuffed Chinese eggplant; bony, finger-licking chicken feet; flaky custard-centered egg tarts. Two leisurely weekend dim-sum forays, one quick midweek lunch and a dinner-dining extravaganza later, I've added yet another entrant to my growing list of Chinese restaurant destinations.
With 240 seats, you might expect spotty service. But whether those seats are filled to capacity (often the case on weekends) or wanting for warmth (as on weekdays), service exceeded my expectations. Servers are quick to refill teapots or fetch booster seats. They'll snuff the Sterno when your hotpot threatens to boil over (as our $9.50 eggplant hotpot — brimming with sweet peppers and onion, garlic and pork — nearly did). And when the eagle-eyed manager spies you struggling with a tangle of noodles, she's not above grabbing a pair of shears and, ignoring your mother's lament regarding running with scissors, rushing over to snip so you can slurp.
You could do worse than the generous $4.75 weekday lunch special. Start with a multi-textured hot-and-sour soup, then choose among 21 serviceable entrees culled from the Chinese-American Greatest Hits list. Mongolian beef, curry chicken, sweet and sour pork, "Vegetable Delight," etc. come alongside a starch-head's dream: pork-fried rice and vegetable chow mein.
Dim sum is available at weekday lunch, too (as is the 200-plus item "dinner" menu), and though the goodies aren't as plentiful then, I found it hard to resist such crunchy temptations as scallop- and pork-stuffed bee-hive taro, lacy chive-filled dumplings and deep-fried shrimp balls. Though these tidbits are tasty at room temperature, heat-seekers may prefer steamed offerings such as scallop balls and gooey, bite-sized garlic spareribs.
Before you turn up your nose at the "turnip pie," take note: These glutinous squares, flavored with five-spice and Chinese sausage and steamed before they're fried, are made with daikon radish.
I love crab and tofu but won't be ordering the crabmeat with tofu again. Steamed tofu topped with shredded crab in a goopy sauce ($7.95) tasted like gourmet baby food. And though I'm a big fan of chow fun (wide rice noodles) and ordered the chow fun "dry" — the way I prefer this otherwise gravy-laden dish — I found the chicken version a monochrome of brown, in color and in flavor.
Prawns with salt and pepper ($9.50) are terrific, but worth ordering only if you're willing to crunch the whole, flash-fried bodies. (Heads you win, tails you win!) Finicky eaters should consider prawns with candied walnuts in a sweet-mayonnaise "cream sauce" ($11.95), though I found the shelled and lightly fried prawns too sweet, as I do wherever this dish is served.
The next time I'm feeling punk, I'll come here for the cure: barbecue duck with mustard-greens soup ($6.95), the ginger-scented broth bobbing with chunks of bone-on duck. And the next time I feel like fishing, I'll point toward the live tanks where market-priced crab, lobster and tilapia spend their final hours. Tilapia, steamed whole, perfumed with ginger, soy sauce and rice wine (two pounds/$18), gave its life so we could relish its fishified simplicity. The soup cure, easy fishing and a free parking garage? See you soon, New Kowloon.
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or email@example.com.