Niu Kee advice
I'm going to Niu Kee for dinner tomorrow with six friends and am interested in your favorite menu items. For most of us it will be our first time. We seem to go to Beijing all the time.
I've read raves on this board for Niu Kee's kung pao chicken, hot and sour soup and pork and chive dumplings - but what are some other great items? The main reason for seeking your advice is that I sent two friends there and they had a fairly bad experience (they didn't order the kung pao because one of them doesn't like peanuts). There were some service issues and they thought the hot and sour soup was good, but not as good as Beijing, and a chicken dish was flavorful but mostly backs and sharp bones. Since they are game enough to try it again, I'd like to have a bit of a game plan.
The diners in the group have a range of heat tolerances ... so we'll be ordering many different things. The person who likes his food hottest is the one who isn't keen on peanuts. Thanks for your advice!
Thanks to everyone for the advice. Though only celfie's came early enough, I'll happily try the other suggestions on future trips. We had a great meal and most agreed it was their new favorite in Chinatown due to the food's quality and interesting flavors.
I was surprised how small the place was and how reasonable the prices were. It was hard for the servers to get around the room and certainly not a place for quiet conversation. It felt like being in someone's living room in which they've crowded a bunch of tables. The homey touch of using Pyrex pie plates as serving dishes also added to that sensation.
Six of us shared the following (and left with two take-away containers):
hot and sour soup -- (Chock-full of tofu, deliciously tender wood ears and flecked with peppers. Prefer to Beijing's which I agree is more glutinous and IMO sometimes unpleasantly sour.)
pork and chive dumplings -- (Flavor- and texture-wise these were nothing special. A sauce might have helped. It was served with a bottle of soy sauce.)
crispy spicy garlic fish -- (This was the favorite... an interesting combination of flavor and texture and not too spicy.)
kung pao chicken -- (My favorite. Some were bothered by the mouth-numbing effects of the peppercorns, but the flavor was complex and delicious even though we got a mild version. In my attempt to convey that we wanted boneless meat - the server didn't understand and asked if we meant we didn't want it spicy. In any case the pieces of chicken were tender and boneless.)
sizzling shrimp -- (Large succulent shrimp. The sauce was nice on the otherwise bland dumplings!)
sizzling beef -- (Everyone enjoyed this, the beef was lean but tender and fresh tasting, not spicy.)
tofu in spicy broth with beef -- (Couldn't find the sizzling hot broth w/tofu and pork that celfie recommended and the server didn't understand my request... so we ended up with this, but I was so full by the time it came that I barely tried it. Plus, I no longer had my soup bowl or spoon so I couldn't take any of the broth.)
dan dan noodles -- (Didn't realize this would be a cold dish, but refreshingly different: chile oil in the bottom of a bowl, covered with thick noodles, topped with three separate piles of cucumber, bean sprouts and a mixture of fermented black beans, dried chili peppers and ??? liked it for its salty-hot flavor with the cool vegetables and noodles, though many of the dishes were salty).
I thought it was strange to have to eat off tiny, saucer-sized plates, but all the other tables seemed to be doing it. For the most part it wasn't a problem because the dishes came just one or two at a time (surprisingly the dumplings came last). We had to send an empty plate around so people could get rid of their shrimp shells to have more room. We should have ordered a vegetable or two, most of the dishes have very few vegetables, just a bit of onion and peppers. I look forward to my next visit! Thanks again!
"I thought it was strange to have to eat off tiny, saucer-sized plates, but all the other tables seemed to be doing it."
This is why I always keep my soup bowl or ask for one if I didn't have soup. Much easier to handle than any plate when eating with chopsticks.
AFAIK the only chicken dish that's bone-in by default is the "large plate of spicy and peppery chicken." The time we ordered it, the waitress warned us about the bones and offered a boneless version for an extra $2.
Re dumplings: for most dumplings (but not shrimp ones), IMO the ideal "sauce" is red vinegar. Ask for it if it isn't offered.
re: Mr F
A shame, because we found the boneless version exquisite as long as you like serious heat; I don't think a mild version would be worthwhile.
The bigger issue is that most of the wait staff don't speak much English or French, presumably because most of the clientele is Chinese.
There is at least one waitress at Niu Kee who speaks very good English (not sure about French), but either she doesn't work there full time or doesn't serve non-Chinese customers by default.
Not a problem most of the time, but it does become one for issues like this or for getting the scoop on the handful of menu items listed in Chinese only. We've received iceberg lettuce in garlic sauce (surprisingly good, BTW) when expecting asparagus ("iceberg" came out sounding like "asperge") and had a waitress mime a frog hopping when telling us about a dish with frogs' legs...
I usually order the dumplings because they are not spicy and children like them, not because they are outstanding. They are very simple. I don't think I would bother ordering them for a group of adults.
Their mapo tofu is very spicy and very good. But I also enjoyed another tofu dish that was similar but not as spicy .. I think it maybe have been called spicy tofu? You don't need to navigate the peppercorns as carefully for that one.
We had a child-friendly version of the sour potato strips that they prepared for us i.e. no chili. It was interesting but I wouldn't order it again.
The hot and sour soup at Beijing is very good too - it's a textural difference maybe?
The h&s soup at the two is definitely very different texturally: Beijing's is thickened (presumably with cornstarch), Niu Kee's has little or no thickener. Beyond that, I find Niu Kee's stands out as being distinctive, well balanced and much spicier than most I've had; Beijing's is decent but very similar to what's served at any number of places.
Overall, my last meal at Beijing had me saying "I've been spoiled by that other place". There's nothing really wrong with it, but it's rare that I've been truly wowed by the cooking there. Niu Kee wows me every time.
Niu Kee favourites so far, with much menu left to explore:
- spicy and peppery chicken (boneless version)
- crispy fish
- silky tofu with beef
- home-style tofu
- shrimp dumplings
- kung pao shrimp
- and, believe it or not, sweet and sour chicken. This may be a "Canadianized" dish, but it's way better than anything comparable you had back when you didn't know any better. :) It's also a nice thing to have on the table when everything else is blazing.
The one time I had the kung pao chicken, I was delighted at first, but found that over time the peanuts absorbed overwhelming Szechuan peppercorn flavours. So even though I like peanuts, I would skip most of them if ordering that dish again.
i adore the hot garlic crispy fish
there's also a tofu dish i always get that comes in a sizzling hot broth (its on the 3rd menu page i believe) with pork
those are my two staples although ive tried all sorts of things. their sizzling plates are great. ive sent many many people to this restaurant and ive never heard of anyone having a bad experience!
oh and a tsing tao is the ultimate campanion beverage
and the kung pao has peanuts but they can easily be eaten around - the dish is INCREDIBLE. MAYBE I WILL GO TONIGHT!~
here: you can always trust slutsky, though he doesn't seem to like it hot enough! http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVE...