John Kan has trodden a circuitous path to Vegas’ Chinatown, or more precisely its fringe, where his authentic Chinese restaurant opened early last year. The restaurant is one more shred of proof that Vegas is slowly installing itself in the firmament of Pacific Rim cities that can hold their own when it comes to real Asian cooking. Kan’s Kitchen is a true find, although I have to credit my colleague at NPR for turning me on to it.
Kan ran a restaurant for years on Beach Street in Boston’s venerable old Chinatown, so he is accustomed to serving both his countrymen and those of us less familiar with his exotic dishes, many of which are written on paper mounted on the wall, in Chinese characters. I’m always keen to order the dishes that aren’t translated for us at these places, but this time, I did not, because I couldn’t get a Chinese friend to accompany me.
- Kan's Kitchen
- 407 S. Jones Blvd.222-9553
- Daily, 11 a.m.-5 a.m.
- Suggested dishes: pork chop sizzling hot plate, $8.95; live crab, $28; pork hock with jellyfish, $7.50; roast duck dumpling noodle soup, $6.95.
Yes, I enlisted the waiters to help me translate a few of them, but their collective hearts didn’t seem to be in the process, so I soon abandoned it. In fact, their hearts may not have been in serving us period, as one of my guests felt. English is functional here, but nothing you’d call fluent. At least the waiters can decipher the numbers next to the names of these dishes, so use that as your ordering strategy.
Having said that, I must say that there will be more than your share of authentic dishes whose names do appear in English, from steamed pork belly with preserved vegetable, a mainstay of the Hakka people of Canton province, to value-priced riffs on shark fin soup, which you can order flavored with chicken or fresh crab meat.
You don’t come to Kan’s Kitchen for a romantic date. This is one of those “turn up the lights and eat” establishments where Cantonese can be heard across the room, but almost every single dish I tried here was delicious.
On a first visit, when I was in the mood for a light lunch, I tried roast duck dumpling noodle soup, which turned out to be enough for two of us. Picture a huge bowl brimming with fat shrimp-stuffed dumplings, pieces of spiced roast duck, yellow noodles and broth that is redolent of all the fragrances put together.
Even though we ordered a huge pile of salt-and-pepper shrimp, heads-on, we wouldn’t have left hungry if the two of us had restricted our order to the soup. But the shrimp were impossible to resist, and we found ourselves sucking the shells for each bit of flavor. The shrimp, unlike the Dungeness crab, are fresh frozen. But if you insist on live seafood, the crab will set you back around $28. Kan’s Kitchen does live crab three different ways: the classic style, with ginger and green onion; Cantonese style, with black bean; and northern Chinese style, sautéed in oil and garlic. All three are tremendous.
Don’t miss appetizers like Peking-style pot stickers, which are made fresh daily, or pork hock with jellyfish, a Shanghainese cold dish. Deep-fried quail are only $2.95 apiece, and a good choice, and minced chicken in lettuce cups, a dish popularized by P.F. Chang’s, is better here, thanks to the addition of toasted pine nuts, which give it more dimension.
One very Cantonese soup that I personally love, but which may be an acquired taste for some, is mustard green and sliced pork with salted fish soup. The salted fish is pungent in a way that may put off a squeamish palate. It is also used, for the record, in chicken salted fish fried rice, which almost every authentic Chinese restaurant has in its repertoire.
Many of the clay-pot casseroles, sadly, are not available on the English menu, but there is a section devoted to the ones that are, and some of them are standouts, ideal for sharing and terrific values. Beef short rib and eggplant with black pepper sauce is a masterpiece, and chicken in sizzling hot clay pot caramelizes the skin to the sides of the pot.
Meats are especially good when served Hong Kong-style, on sizzling iron plates. From a moderate list of choices, I’d go with either filet mignon or the pork chops. Either way I reckon the price is around one-quarter what it would be in a tony Strip establishment.
If you’ve come for the usual-suspect dishes that round out a round-eyes Chinese eatery, not to worry, they are all present: kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, Peking duck ... well, you know the drill. Like I said, Kan is a savvy businessman. He’s smart enough to know that you butter your bread on both sides in this town.
But me, I’ll be the guy chowing down on the East River salted chicken, stir-fried scallops in XO sauce and white turnip with fish cake. Hey, if I wanted to eat kung pao chicken, I wouldn’t have to schlep all the way over here to Chinatown, now would I?