"Sorry we're closed -- but you can do take out," suggests the woman in Mandarin as I stand in the small and empty dining room of King Fung Garden.
"I live kinda far away, it might get cold..." I tried to look as hungry as I could.
At that moment, another woman pops her head out of the kitchen. Smiling kindly, she encourages me to sit down. "We just closed, but no problem. Sit down."
It's not everyday that I get showered with this kind of hospitality. I thank them profusely. The menu comes, I pick out the scallion pancakes and potstickers, appetizers that I thought would be good and still be less of a burden on the kitchen.
They're closed, but they still put heart and soul into the food.
Crispy surface crunches and gives way to a very nicely doughy chewy centre, just the right level of pliance from a kitchen that knows how to work its dough. The judicious bits of chopped scallions add a light fragrance.
The neat folds that seal the potstickers and the texture of the skin indicate the work of skilled hands. A very savoury filling, with nuanced ginger and scallion in the ground pork, seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce. They're full of fragrant oil-touched juice.
But I think the kitchen's ability is best reflected in how the potstickers are cooked. The base is perfectly golden brown and crispy, the sides softer and slightly resilent, beautifully reflecting a careful balance of the two steps in the cooking of these dumpling: first pan-frying, followed by steaming in the same covered pan. In some respects, this is a more artful piece than the ones at Taiwan Cafe.
The woman who had seated me was Cantonese, but uncommonly fluent in Mandarin. I asked about their menu and chef. The current chef is Cantonese too, but was taught by the previous chef who was from Shandong (in Northern China) and who was only willing to pass down his recipes and techniques when he was in his late seventies when he couldn't keep up with the demands of the kitchen. So the best stuff on the menu are Northern Chinese dishes, not Eastern (e.g. Shanghainese) or Southern (e.g. Cantonese). Will be back when I have a chance to assemble a Peking duck expedition.
Spurred on by recent praise for Mirage's baklava from mmh429 (link below), I decided to revisit this dessert (the last time I had it was a good not great experience right after they opened).
I'm all over the counter, looking through the display counter, angling for a piece of baklava with the most pistacchio.
"This one here, two in front of that," as I focused my finger on the piece I wanted with a fat pistacchio base, verbally guiding the pair of tongs in the woman's hands, "that has the most pistacchio; I love pistacchio."
The woman behind the counter obliges with a motherly smile.
"You like pistacchio? I'll give you more." She reaches for a bag of ground fresh-tasting pistacchio and adds a couple of serious sprinkles.
The baklava is as good as what mmh429 describes. It's as good as the one I had when Beiruit restaurant was making them ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]), maybe better.
I could taste a clear perfumy citrus, most likely lemon, wafting its way sweetly from the clean, rich nut butter of pistacchio, mingling with the drier nutty ground pistacchio garnish. The brittle, delicate filo is exquisite. I can hear nightingales sing again.
It's wonderful to experience such kindness and generosity, twice in the same night. Life is soothingly good.