The restaurant is large, with plenty of televisions and good spacing between tables. On our visit, it seemed to be a slowly-gathering crowd, with more people eating at 8:30 p.m. than when we arrived a little after seven. Our server was pleasant, even downright cheerful, and the kitchen moves everything quickly enough so that dishes can arrive before you finish the previous course. Speed also is affected by how busy the kitchen is, although we acknowledge that “courses” are rarely found in Asian restaurants.
Spring rolls, of course, to kick off. Two kinds, in fact, regular ones and moo shu, containing some pork inside the cool, thin, moist wrappers of rice flour, thin as paper. A hoisin sauce and the familiar nuoc cham sauce for dipping came alongside. Both styles were heavier on the vegetables inside than many of their cousins, something we like since it adds flavor as well as texture, and subtracts a few calories. Worth a repeat order.
Crispy chicken wings were the first and second joints of the wing, not separated, and seemed to be baked, rather than fried, and therefore not as crisp. That was even more than okay; these babes are just a vehicle for carrying a fabulous sauce, one that begins with soy sauce and has lots of notes of sweet-roasted garlic in it, and when we say sweet, we're not just hinting. Definitely a big salty-sweet flavor combo, it was too rich to eat with a spoon, but perfect for wing-dipping.
Shanghai noodles, listed under the “rice or egg noodle soup” category, arrived as a good-sized bowl of the thin, wiggly egg noodles topped with several kinds of meat and seafood. The soup was alongside, ready to pour over the top or to serve as a dipping sauce. The basic broth was chicken, with a faint hit of star anise. No overcooked noodles, happily, and a wide variety of protein, everything from excellent, perfectly cooked shrimp to a slice of red meat that was clearly a cross-section of heart. Unfortunately, it included some of the fake, extruded fish that tries to pass as crab, but also chicken, a couple of pieces of tripe, nicely chewy squid all waiting for the fun, with some fish sauce on the side. Very comfort food-like.
Now about that Cornish hen. Far crisper than the wings (and obviously deep-fried), it was carefully hacked into pieces after cooking, allowing it to cool to easy handling temperature. The hen was tasty and tender, sprinkled with green onion, with still another soy-based sauce for dipping. This one had a little onion, but was far thicker than the wings' sauce, pretty close to the consistency (and easily the color) of Karo syrup. Sweet, too, with notes of dark caramel. But the really remarkable thing on the plate were the rice cakes. Two perfect discs of sticky rice cooked with coconut had been sauteed to chewiness on the outside and were a perfect counterpoint. We've never come across them before, and liked them so much we could have probably eaten them solo.
This is perfect weather for cafe sua da, the Vietnamese iced coffe that drips into condensed sweetened milk before being stirred together and poured over ice. Kim Son's is the classic version, almost chocolaty in its richness. We find the infusion of caffeine seems to be soaked up by a full-sized meal, so we have no qualms about knocking back a glass after dinner. Mileage may vary, but consider it after lunch, at least; it's a treat worth knowing about and enjoying.
8080 Olive Blvd, University City
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Smoking: Yes (but we smelled none)