Review: Keung Kee Restaurant – Montreal
70 Rue De La Gauchetiere Ouest - (514) 393-1668
Date of visit: January 5, 2012
Ambience and Service
This is a fairly small Cantonese restaurant seating 76, which occupies the second floor of the building it occupies. With the exception of some rather plushly ornate curtains at the front windows, the place is a bit shabby and not terribly well maintained. The cashier counter area was very cluttered and untidy and there was a stack of empty beer boxes against a pillar in the dining room. It did not look to be cleaned with much frequency but I can’t say that it was noticeably dirty either. All in all, it actually seems like quite a cozy place, actually
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon at about 1:30 pm towards the end of the lunch rush and it was still fairly full. I noted that, barring myself and a handful of other persons, the crowd was mostly Chinese, which usually is a good sign in a Chinese restaurant. The service was quite friendly and pretty quick given that I saw only two wait staff covering the whole room. I was given a lunch menu that comprised only a dozen or so dishes, mostly noodles, soup and a few appetizers, but, thankfully, I was able to order from the regular menu which is much more extensive. There were also a number of specials on the wall in Chinese characters, of which I was able to decipher only a few. I would like to have more time, someday, to try ordering from these ‘extra’ menu selections.
Shark fin soup with crab
I have made shark fin soup in the past but, until now, had never sampled it in a restaurant. Quite a few years ago, I decided I would not eat shark fin again after I learned of the wasteful and environmentally unfriendly harvesting techniques. It seems, however, that the delicacy will likely be illegal across North America in the near future so I decided to relax my ban and sample it while I can.
The soup is offered in a variety of ways; beginning at a simple shark fin with crab or chicken at just under $10 a bowl, and finishing with shark fin and abalone which, I was told, currently runs at $85 per single bowl. I was content to go with the cheaper version served with crab.
I was given a decent sized bowl, containing what was obviously real crab and not the fake crabstick stuff. There was also quite a bit of egg white in the thickened, brownish stock, but, to my dismay, I could see no shark fin at all. It was only after I stirred it around a bit that I saw a few of the telltale translucent needles. In all, there was probably only a good tablespoon of fin in the whole bowl and I can only hope that the $85 bowl offers a good deal more.
The soup tasted very nice with a good ‘sea-umami’ flavor and the shark fin added a nice chewy-bite. Shark fin, of course, has very little flavor of its own, being added for its texture, and, while I think that this is a bit over-rated, it is an interesting gustatory experience. As I was being served the soup, the waiter also provided me with a bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce and suggested I try ‘just a few drops’ in the soup. As it turned out, the bottle did not contain the original soy but rather some homemade concoction that was soy based but had a slight pinkish tint (probably from red-vinegar) and a decided anise flavor. I did try a little in the soup as suggested, but I was quite glad I tasted the soup alone first as the contents of the bottle really did nothing to enhance the broth and, indeed, served only to mask some of the more delicate flavors.
On the whole I enjoyed the soup but it was disappointing in a couple of regards: In the first place, the presentation and appearance was a bit underwhelming. The broth was a murky and drab brownish color and not especially appealing. Secondly, as noted, the quantity of shark fin provided was really too small to qualify this as a shark fin soup. Rather it was a crab soup that just happened to have a few strands of fin included. I can only rate this dish with a 3 out of 5.
Kung Pao Chicken
This was a fairly mediocre dish but not too bad for a Cantonese restaurant, I suppose. There was not a great deal of chicken and the pieces were cut more in shreds rather than the cubes which the ‘ding’ in the Chinese name calls for. There were a lot of peanuts and, somewhat unusually, the red skins were left on and that actually added to the visual appeal of the dish. As with most restaurants, there were quite a few vegetables added for filler. In this case there were green peppers, carrot and celery, as well as some yellow onion. The sauce was quite spicy hot and I was able to discern some flakes of chill but the traditional whole chilies were not present and the dish lacked a scorched chili flavor. There was also almost no sweet-sour quality to the sauce. Cantonese restaurants quite often will make this dish far sweeter than in Sichuan restarant versions but this was uncharacteristically flat in that regard. I liked it well enough but it rates only 3 out of 5 on my Kung Pao scale.
I enjoyed my meal overall even though neither of the two dishes I tried impressed me overmuch. Still, I would probably give the place another try if the opportunity arises.