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I was in Philadelphia for Thanksgiving to see my GF’s family and we decided to go to Chinese food on actual Thanksgiving Day so that her mom wouldn’t have to cook. I was debating between Ken’s and Tai Lake as those seemed to be the most highly recommended restaurants in Chinatown. We picked Ken’s because I was able to reserve a private room. This was the first time I’ve ever eaten in Philly’s Chinatown, so I was curious to see if it was any good.
Ken’s is a three story restaurant in the heart of Philly’s Chinatown. Its décor was pretty rundown for a full service restaurant (i.e. not some quick noodle take out type place) even by Chinatown standards. Our private room was on the 2nd floor and had a karaoke machine. The service was pretty decent and the servers were friendly. The restaurant was probably half full.
Here’s what we got:
- Fish Maw Soup (Yu Du Tang): Fish maw is actually the air bladder of a fish. They are dried and then re-constituted in soup; it is a very common Cantonese soup. While it sounds like a weird ingredient, it’s actually very mild tasting and doesn’t have a weird texture, so I’ve found that even those who are squimish for anything weird are usually fine with it. The soup itself is very mild tasting and you have to add white pepper and red vinegar to make it more flavorful. The version here was fine, but they put too much starch in it, so it was a bit more “gloppy” than it should be. 3.75/5
- Salt Baked Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu): The batter was a little heavier than it should be and it didn’t have enough salt in it. I also like more fried garlic and jalapenos on it. The version here is decent, but not great. 3.75/5
- Pan Fried Fish: They recommended this fish, which I am blanking as to what it was now. I asked them to prepare it pan fried as one of my GF’s relatives prefers it that way (I prefer it steamed “qing zheng”). The fish meat was fine quality as the meat was reasonably tasty and not fishy at all. However, they cooked a fish a little too long so it was drier than it should be and the sauce was a bit too oily. Good Cantonese fish has the flavor that something oily / fried except its not oily or heavy at all; this fish didn’t really meet that criteria. 3.5/5
- Peking Duck (Bei Jing Kao Ya): They made a pretty decent albeit a bit heavy version of Cantonese Peking duck. The skin was crispy and flavorful. The meat was tender and flavorful. The mantou was freshly steamed so they were nice and fluffy. The plum sauce was fine although it did have this smoky flavor that was a bit different and I wasn’t crazy about. Overall though I thought it was pretty good. 4/5
- Stir Fried Razor Clams in XO Sauce: Our waiter said these were good. They were stir fried razor clams out of the shell and snap peas in XO sauce (dried seafood, chili, oil and garlic). The razor clams were pretty good and not overcooked. The snap peas were cooked well as well. Overall, it was a pretty decent dish. 4/5
- Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu): It’s sort of hard to screw this dish up and the version here was pretty decent. The sauce wasn’t gloppy, but it was too sweet. The pork chops were tender and nice tasting. They cut them up a little too small, but that was fine. 4/5
- Fried Rice: This was just typical fried rice, I thought it was a bit heavy because the last fried rice I had was at Seafood Village in LA which makes amazing fried rice, but aside from that it was fine. 3.75/5
- Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves (Qing Chao Dou Miao): A pretty standard version of sautéed snow pea leaves in oil and garlic. It was a little too oily, but was generally pretty decent. 4/5
- Sweet Red Bean Soup: This was given as the typical complementary tang shui (sweet soup) at the end of the meal. It was surprisingly good; I actually ate two bowls of it. It wasn’t watery like many places serve it. I believe they mixed some coconut milk into it because it had a creamy coconut-y flavor to it. I liked this soup a lot. 4.25/5
I think I might have made a mistake and should’ve gone to Tai Lake as we walked by it afterwards and it was completely packed with a lot of people waiting outside for a table and was mainly a Chinese clientele. It also looked significantly nicer décor wise. Ken’s wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything special.