The Weekly Eater: King Restaurant offers clay-pot delicacies
A rare wave of nostalgia hit me while dining at King Restaurant & Bar, where King Kan is at the helm. Fans have followed him over 30 years from such restaurants as Legend Seafood, Kirin in Waikoloa and Jade Dynasty.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
I don’t tend to feel nostalgic about food. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with a lot of variety. My dad did the cooking while my mom went back to school and dinner had to be easy, so we ate a lot of single-pot or single-skillet dishes. I got to know Hamburger Helper really well.
Weekends were another story, when my mom had time to go to the Chinese markets and introduce us to what were the most exotic ingredients to kids, such as tree fungus and the scary looking “100-year-old” eggs, brined, then coated and stored in a black charcoal-salt paste that also infused them with flavor and preserved them.
If there was one favorite flavor from my childhood that was it. The vivid orange yolks were at the heart of joong (zongzi), bundles of glutinous rice and other savory ingredients, as well as the golden prize in the center of moon cakes. They were also a treat to be added to breakfast jook. Early birds got the rich, savory yolks, preferred over the saltier egg whites.
THESE DAYS I rarely see the Cantonese classic dish of pork hash layered with salted duck eggs on menus, but a rare wave of nostalgia hit me while dining at King Restaurant & Bar, where those magic eggs appear in a couple of unusual ways.
KING RESTAURANT AND BAR
1340 Kapiolani Blvd.
Food: *** 1/2
Ambiance: ** 1/2
>> Call: 957-9999
>> Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily
>> Prices: $45 to $50 for two to four, without alcohol; BYOB while a liquor license is pending
>> Parking: In unmarked stalls in back, on Makaloa Street
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** – excellent
*** – very good
** – average
* – below average
At the helm in the kitchen is King Kan, who within the Chinese community has a reputation equivalent to an Iron Chef. Fans have followed him over 30 years from such restaurants as Legend Seafood, Kirin in Waikoloa and Jade Dynasty, and now to this latest endeavor, a combination of sit-down restaurant and karaoke bar that is big in China. It can be a little off-putting if you’re not into karaoke because it can get noisy in the late evenings. It is surreal to see old-school Chinese society in rich garb enjoying traditional Lunar New Year rituals alongside those who just want to get drunk and sing as loudly as possible.
Kan honed his skills over a decade in Hong Kong and Japan before arriving in Hawaii in 1989. He continues to travel to China to keep current on food trends. A new mobility of people from provinces outside the main cities has introduced many regional styles of cooking to the mainstream. Kan brings to his new restaurant a range of regional specialties, from his native Hong Kong-style dishes to now trendy chili-infused Sichuan fare.
A lot of delicious items are on the menu, starting with tender juicy marinated roast duck ($15.95 half/$28 whole) or barbecued pork ribs ($9.95) cooked in a specialized roaster. The pork skin is scored to allow even cooking and for fat and marinade flavors to seep into the meat.
I ALWAYS look for menu all-stars like these, but what really won my heart was a humble dish of three- colored eggs ($12.95), comprising pieces of salted duck egg and blackened, fermented century egg (pidan) steamed in a savory blend of regular chicken eggs.
And while typical crab stir-fry options might include garlic and green onion, or a black bean sauce version, at King’s fresh Dungeness crab (market price, recently $52) can be stir-fried with salted egg yolk, which adds its distinctive rich flavor to the sweet white meat. I could not get enough of it, and sought out more pieces colored by the egg than the crab meat itself.
The restaurant is also known for clay-pot specialties served in the pots to keep them warm throughout a meal. Combinations include chicken and abalone ($21.95), prawns and vermicelli noodles in XO sauce ($18.95), or oxtails stewed in red wine ($18.95), though with the latter I wished the meat was more fall-off-the-bone tender. Other pots feature ingredients such as mushrooms and chicken ($12.95) or salt fish and pork hash ($12.95) served over rice.
Sichuan selections include the typical beef in hot chili oil ($18.95) as well as Mouth-Watering Chicken ($16.95 half/$32 whole), served cold in a sauce of chilies and Sichuan peppers. It’s a good introduction to this style of cooking because of the non-tingling, mild nature of the sauce. Another Sichuan classic is Ma Yi Shang Shi, which translates as Ants Climbing a Tree ($12.95). The amusing name is a reference to small pieces of ground pork stir-fried with sticky vermicelli noodles, giving the dish the appearance of ants crawling over a log. The dish registers as spicy at first, but the heat seems to dissipate the more you eat.
There is so much more on the menu to try, and the next time I may just order a stand-alone salted egg to crack over fish fried rice ($15.95). It doesn’t get much better than that.
I don’t expect everyone to understand. Years ago, a friend of Japanese ancestry asked me if I ate mooncakes with the egg yolk center. She said she was grossed out about it because she imagined the egg might be rotten or spoiled. Some people will never understand what lies outside their culture. All I know is that what others fear is food for my Chinese soul.
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.