FEAST FOR THE FAMISHED: Cheap and addictive Chinese in Brookline.
The original King Fung Garden, which started with four tables in a converted Chinatown gas station and had no exterior sign — just several transliterations of its name, has long been the object of a cult following. One of the few Mandarin-style restaurants in Chinatown, it specialized in vast heaps of dumplings. Naturally, for people who dreamed of Peking ravioli and nothing but, it was a dream come true. As the restaurant expanded slightly over time, it also developed a reputation for its modestly priced, three-course Peking duck.
So it was with considerable interest that I noticed a new King Fung Garden had opened in Brookline. Even this small storefront is far larger than its Chinatown sibling. The old specialties, including dumplings and Peking duck (which must be ordered one day in advance), are still on the menu. But the new owners of both restaurants, who are from Guangdong, have emphasized Southern Chinese dishes as well. At this point, the Brookline restaurant is still a work in progress, and currently does more takeout orders than table service. However, this may change once the new location establishes a following and builds up its staff. In the meantime, you’re likely to get your dishes in takeout containers, even if you’re sitting at one of the seven tables. King Fung Garden’s devoted fan base was built around a unique combination of quality and price. Thankfully, that hasn’t changed.
To start with the obvious, the boiled dumplings ($5.95/10) are as wonderful as ever — thin-skinned pouches filled with a crunchy combination of pork and cabbage, and enhanced by a very gingery soy-garlic dip. Peking ravioli ($3.95/six; $5.95/10) are the classic-shaped turnovers, with a meatier filling and a thin skin that’s fried on the bottom.
It seems as if a new cult has already sprung up in appreciation of the scallion pancake ($3.25), which is deep-fried and crispier than any other version around. Beef noodle soup ($5.50) features homemade and hand-cut udon-caliber rice noodles, a simple but solid “superior stock” (probably pork and chicken), and chunks of surprisingly tender boiled chuck or brisket. This same beef, only a lot more of it, is featured in beef brisket chow foon ($6.50), with thinner homemade and hand-cut soft noodles, and a lot of bok choy. I’m used to beef chow foon having a thick, gloopy gravy; my only caveat here is that the very best chow foon should have a little char from the wok. Any pasta lover will devour it, though.
I hit up the whole fish with nine flavors ($10.95), which the waiter explained was actually being prepared with whitefish filets. So much the better. These were breaded-and-fried, thin filets, the better to soak up a complex sauce that prominently featured black pepper and ginger, as well as a number of lesser flavors, including one that resembled a subtle, Szechuan, preserved turnip. Fried and salted calamari ($9), a Hong Kong specialty in my book, was here overly breaded, though impeccably crisp and dry-fried, with salt in the batter. If you’re looking for pepper, you could be daring with a slice of green chili, or stay safe with chunks of red and green bell pepper.
Another Hong Kong menu favorite is sautéed u-toy ($7.50). U-toy (or yau choy or you cai) is made up of the stems, flowering heads, and leaves of the rapeseed plant, and is served in a simple Cantonese stir-fry. It looks a bit like celery, but tastes almost as sweet and rich as Chinese broccoli ($7.50). King Fung Garden II’s version of orange-flavored chicken ($9.25) is a cousin to the Mandarin- and Taiwan-style lemon chicken; it’s a slightly sweet dish of batter-fried chicken nuggets and steamed Western broccoli in an orange sauce. If you close your eyes, you might think of the old French-restaurant versions of duck à l’orange.
As for drinks, the restaurant keeps a refrigerator of canned and bottled sodas. However, you can also venture across the street to the Wine Gallery (375 Boylston, Brookline) for a great selection of soft drinks, beer, and wine. It’s almost impossible to find a wine that stands up to the salty, sour, and spicy flavors of Chinese food. Better, then, to choose a drink from the excellent selection of microbrews or any of the interesting soft drinks. I went with the Polar pomegranate seltzer ($1.34/liter), which I had never tried before, but found went fabulously with Chinese food. When King Fung Garden II gets its beverage program organized, I hope they supplement common sodas with this outstanding no-cal complement to their food.
Indeed, there are quite a few things yet to be organized at King Fung Garden II — although the lack of whole fish was the only food issue we hit. Our tableware was all plastic, and when we tried to negotiate this with an assistant cook whose English was limited, the word “chopsticks” produced two more plastic forks. We then found co-owner Doris Huang and obtained very nice wooden chopsticks, necessary for eating noodles and chow foon.
The wall art features everything from post-Impressionist oil paintings and old Christmas lights to Chinese folk-art panels and unlit color gels of Chinese food. If the plan to keep the quality of food high and the prices low were not so apparent, one might assume that a solution could be found next door at a well-stocked, Asian- and African-antiques shop. In fact, the dining room is so underdeveloped that one might suspect the Huangs of trying to cultivate another secret faithful flock. My guess is that they will be foiled by the restaurant’s proximity to Brookline High School. Fried food this good does not go unnoticed for long. When word gets out about the scallion pancake, the students will fill the place in the afternoons, and the owners will have to raise the prices and decorate extensively in defense of the rest of the menu.
King Fung Garden II | 370 Boylston Street, Brookline | Open Mon–Thurs, 11:30 am–1 am; Fri & Sat, 11:30 am–1:30 am; and Sun, 12:30 pm–1 am | DI, MC, VI | No liquor | No valet parking; some spaces in own lot | Access up a short threshold step | 617.739.8560
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