Dining

An Initial Success

KJ anchors the new Dim Sum Triangle out west

Suddenly, there is a cluster of dim sum restaurants on Flamingo Road, just west of the Strip. Ping Pang Pong is at the Gold Coast, and Cathay House is at the Palms across the street, so it only seemed logical that the Rio would get into the game. That’s exactly what the casino has done, and on a grand scale, I might add.

KJ Dim Sum & Seafood Chinese Restaurant one-ups the competition with a huge, gaudy space filled with fish tanks and Chinese murals. At first glance, it has the feel of a dim sum restaurant in Los Angeles, meaning noisy, brightly lit and packed to the gills, with the buzz­—mostly in Cantonese—to go with it. The room was packed, mostly with Chinese speakers, the two times I lunched there. And the noise level was deafening.

The L.A. connection is relevant. The original KJ Kitchen on Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown is one of the Chinese restaurants of choice for Chinese speakers from Southern California, thanks to a huge menu of authentic dishes such as Concubine’s Chicken (oil-bathed chicken served cold with garlic-ginger puree) and Thai-style sweet and sour duck feet.

You’ll find those dishes here as well on a special Chinese menu, but good luck reading the characters. Happily, there is sufficient diversion on a huge menu with a whopping 55 varieties of dim sum and hundreds of other dishes. It’s almost like being in Hong Kong.

The dim sum is first rate. I often order the lotus leaf-wrapped rice dumpling (lo mai gai) as a barometer for other dishes, and this one could pass muster anywhere: glutinous rice stuffed with chicken, mushroom and lob cheung, a fragrant, greasy Chinese sausage.

Rice noodles, cheung fan in Cantonese, come rolled around various fillings, such as barbecue pork, beef or tender and delicious shrimp. I always have them with a splash of kee jap, which sounds suspiciously like ketchup, but is actually a sweet, pungent soy-based sauce.

It will take several visits just to get a solid feel for this mammoth dinner menu. One can’t-go-wrong choice is the crab vermicelli hot pot. Separating the crabmeat from the shells is a hassle, but worth it. Under the crab, incredibly good rice noodles—Chinese angel-hair pasta, if you will—soak up all the good juices.

Max’s Menu Picks

Dim Sum

Lo mai gai—lotus leaf-wrapped rice dumplings, $3

Cheung fan—meat, chicken or sea- food wrapped in rice noodles, $3

Entrées

Crab vermicelli hot pot, $20

Crispy fried chicken, $23

Chiu yim pai gwat—spiced salt pork chops, $12

Whole steamed red cod, $30

Sides

Sautéed do mieu or ong choy (pea shoots or spinach-like leaves, respectively), $13

Drinks

Bo lei or oolong tea, $1 0

I’m also a huge fan of this crispy fried chicken. At less than half the price of Peking duck for a whole chicken, and even less expensive for a half, you get a huge platter of perfectly cooked chicken with crisped, bronze skin and juicy, tender meat beneath it.

If fried foods are your thing, try chiu yim pai gwat, spiced salt pork chops on the bone with a light cornstarch breading. For a splurge, the steamed red cod, done simply with ginger and garlic, sold by weight, is magnificent—the caveat being that the fish is served head on, bones in.

No Chinese family would ever dream of ordering dinner without greens, so ask for whatever is seasonal. If you’re lucky, they’ll have do mieu, a sort of pea shoot, or ong choy, a hollow, reedy relative of spinach. The best way to eat these vegetables is to have them sautéed, simply, with garlic and oil. If you aren’t an aficionado of Chinese teas, you’ll have to wait for that Tsing Tao. The restaurant is still waiting for its beer and wine license.

Oh, and consider bringing earplugs, or at least headphones.

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