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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Red Kings - Diverse regional Chinese

OK, I'll admit it, it was the soup dumplings that drew us in.

Although we still have Dim Sum Garden and Sakura Mandarin providing Xiao Long Bao here in Philly, there can never be too many sources for these delicate dumplings filled with broth.

Restaurants rarely call them soup dumplings, more often they're listed on menus as steamed juicy buns or just Xiao Long Bao. Here, they're called Steamed Shanghai Juicy Dumplings. And they're good - our batch was delicate, tasty, and none stuck to the steamer or fell apart as we tried to eat them. I don't know for sure that these are made in-house, but, no matter, they're prepared carefully, and served with the requisite ginger-soy sauce.
There are a few other Shanghainese specialties on the menu, but the most interesting thing about Red Kings is that there are offerings from many regions and traditions of Chinese cooking: Shanghai, Sichuan, Fuzhou  -  there are even Thai items.  This normally worries me - a kitchen that tries to do too many things usually fails at all of them.  But from an initial sampling (admittedly, we didn't try the Thai) this place seems to be able to produce credible versions of several styles.  

That's not so unique in Philly's Chinatown: both Four Rivers and Sakura Mandarin feature  Shanghainese and Sichuan dishes and more, and do them pretty well, and now Red Kings joins that club.

If I'm seriously craving full-on Sichuan, I'll still head to Han Dynasty, but if I'm in the mood to try a variety of styles at one meal, this place will be a strong contender. 

We're always in the mood for some spicy dishes from Sichuan, so we tried their Wontons with Chili Soy. These were fairly small, and didn't include much filling, but the noodles were nicely tender, and the sauce had a subtle, but very pleasing, chili kick. They were good, I'd get them again, but if one is specifically craving this dish, the other Sichuan places in town all have solid versions.  Han Dynasty is my favorite (yes I know I need to try Yu Kee...) , but they're actually very  enjoyable at Four Rivers and Szechuan tasty House too. 

Staying in that Sichuan zone, we sampled the Lamb with Cumin. This is not as hot, or as fully-encrusted with spices as most versions I've had,  but that subtlety allowed the lamb flavor to shine through in a more pronounced way. The meat was very tender and juicy, all in all a more subtle and elegant version than we're used to, but a nice variation.
Heading back to the Shanghai influence, we also ordered the Rice Cakes with Pork and Pickled. We're not sure whether that last word was supposed to be pickles, or if they left-off the word  vegetables from the name, but in fact it was a stir-fry of the chewy, noodle-like rice cakes, with plenty of shredded pork and a bit of sour vegetable.  I could have gone for a little more of the sour, crunchy note, but I often think that with rice cake dishes. 

While surveying Shanghai eating, one really ought to try the Dong Po Rou. It's been a challenge to get this dish in Philly restaurants: it involves a complicated and time-consuming preparation, and often requires ordering ahead, if a place even makes it at all. But Red Kings has it on their regular menu, and they seem to have an ample supply of the rich pork belly, slowly braised in a sweet sauce. It's served with steamed buns, allowing one to make pork belly sandwiches that have origins that stretch much further back than the current craze.  For some reason they only brought us two buns, but I suspect we could have asked for more. It's a delicious dish, but a fatty one, so you might want to split this between a few people (although we witnessed a middle aged Chinese gentleman come in and order one for himself... )


Despite that pile of food, we had a craving for ribs, so we asked our waiter which ones were the best (there are about 4 different preparations on their menu.)  He recommended the Wu Xi ribs, which were in fact very delicious, but a little too similar to the Dong Po Rou. In the future I'd get one or the other at any one dinner, but they're both quite good.

We barely scratched the surface of their very large menu, so we're looking forward to heading back and trying more.  Stay tuned for updates!  And yes, we'll even try the Thai food, even though I remain very skeptical about that...

They keep fairly late hours: they open at 11am  every day, and don't close until 11pm weeknights;  midnight on Friday and Saturday, 10pm on Sunday.

Service was very friendly and helpful, and the place itself, although small, is attractive and well-maintained.

Red Kings
933 Race Street

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