- James G May 3, 2002 08:12 AM
Much against my better judgment, I went to dinner recently at Mr. K's with some colleagues, including a visitor from Beijing. Considering myself to be rather knowledgable about Chinese food, I was opposed to the choice of restaurant, but was persuaded to acquiesce, on the basis that we were not going there for a great experience of Chinese cuisine, but for a good dinner. I now hang my head in shame in front of the chowhound community for my arrogance.
Indeed, little about the dining experience at Mr. K's can be compared with anything you'd encounter in China. The tables are set with big porcelain plates and gold-colored cutlery (though they do also provide chopsticks on a gold-colored stand). Rather than ordering a la carte, we had the restaurant put together a tasting menu, so I did not see the dinner menu, though the specials (on a card in a stand at the center of our table) contained no recognizably Chinese dishes.
In keeping with my expectations, the first course was not great. They served us a very dry and rather bland deep-fried crab claw with far too much breading for my taste, two dry shumai dumplings, and a lettuce leaf filled with a stir-fried mixture of diced pork and vegetables (which was the highlight of this course). However, the next course--Beijing Duck--was excellent, with crisp skin, juicy meat, served in light pancakes with a very good hoisin sauce. Among the better versions of this dish that I have had in the US. And the main course was also rather good--a sort of Mongolian lamb, a beautifully presented lobster in light Cantonese-style sauce, and a very tender dish of beef (two pieces per person, larger than would normally be eaten with chopsticks) with a not-too-heavy sauce. With dessert (European-style cakes, also quite good) they served coffee made in individual vacuum pots (very impressive stylistically, and made a nice cup of coffee, too).
All in all, it was a very nice dinner, and our Chinese visitor seemed to enjoy it well enough. And interestingly it seems to be a popular place among the Chinese embassy crowd (and Japanese delegations). I would not go there regularly, but for a 'different' dining experience (on someone else's dime) not a bad choice.
On the one occasion I ate at Mr. K's (with only one guest), I tried to wrestle with the menu, rather than give myself to the establishment's choices. The result was largely unsatisfactory. I'm sure your way is better, and that is what I would do in the unlikely circumstance that I were to return. But I agree with you that the décor, the settings, the plateware are amazingly clunky. I suspect that to the extent your Chinese colleague enjoyed the experience it was because the American take on Chinese food was so deliciously funny.
I've been to MacDonald's in both Tokyo and São Paulo, and they really are quite different from one another in ways that reflect the home country. There's something to be learned in such places about how other cultures absorb the American way of life.