King Restaurant and Bar Introduces New and Rare-to-Honolulu Chinese Dishes
Sensing a shift in tastes and demographics, the owner and chef team depart from their previous menus at Hung Won and Legends Seafood.
WHOLE UHU STEAMED CHINESE STYLE
Photos: Martha Cheng
King Restaurant and Bar’s owner and chef are veterans in Honolulu’s Chinese restaurant industry, but at their latest venture, they introduce dishes that are rare or new to Honolulu. In my mind, the roast squab, choi sum in a broth with salted duck egg and pi dan (preserved egg), and Sichuanese “mouthwatering” chicken are incongruous with owner Kevin Li and chef King Kan’s culinary résumé. Li opened (and closed four years ago) Hung Won in Kaimukī, which served local Chinese food like minute chicken and cake noodle, while Kan spent more than two decades working at Legend Seafood Restaurant. To be honest, none of those calling cards would have compelled me to try King had a friend not exhorted me to go. Now, I’m the one doing the exhorting.
Call it squab or pigeon or just think of it as a tiny, all dark-meat chicken—whatever it takes for you to try it—just get the salt and pepper squab ($16.95). It’s my favorite thing on the menu, with its crackly skin and rich meat underneath, and a side dish of straight up MSG and pepper to dip it in. It’s pretty popular, so it’s best to preorder it if you have your heart set on it, as I always do. My other go-to dish is the Dungeness crab or shrimp stir-fried shell-on with salted duck egg yolk (market price), which gives the sweet seafood a brittle, yet luxurious coat.
Dungeness crab stir-fried with salted duck egg yolk
King accommodates large gatherings, whether you reserve one of the karaoke rooms (which fit up to 16 people with a minimum check of $200) or one of round tables in the main dining room, which is more polished and modern than other Chinese restaurants in town. And there are special occasion dishes, like a ginger and scallion whole steamed fish (market price), oysters in the shell with XO sauce ($17.95 for six pieces), and roast duck ($26 for a whole), one of the best in town. But it’s also a place I return to for casual weekday dinners, for comforting claypot rice ($12.95) with lup cheong and slices of lap yuk, cured pork belly, and the poached chicken in chile sauce ($16.95 for half) that rivals Chengdu Taste’s. The vegetable dishes at many other Chinese restaurants can be dull, but not at King, particularly the bittermelon with black bean sauce ($12.95) and the aforementioned choi sum with “gold and silver egg” ($15.95)—the gold, salted duck egg, and the silver, preserved egg providing a creaminess akin to brie (though I know its gray color is a hurdle for many).
Choi sum with gold and silver egg
Sensing a shift in tastes and demographics (Li notices more northern Chinese immigrating to Hawai‘i in recent years rather than from the southeast—where he’s originally from—as in the past), Li decided to depart from the localized Chinese food he had served at Hung Won to focus on Chinese mainland dishes. Over the years, Kan has traveled to different regions in China—the menu at his eponymous restaurant is a showcase of favorite dishes he encountered. To add to the (very) truncated tour of China’s greatest hit dishes, after dinner, head down the block to Friend Cafe, which Li also owns, and order the mango pomelo sago pudding ($5.95), an extremely popular Hong Kong dessert.
Note: As of now, while King waits for its liquor license, the restaurant is BYOB.
King Restaurant and Bar, open daily 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., 1340 Kapi‘olani Blvd., Ste 101, (808) 957-9999
Read more stories by Martha Cheng