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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Roast pork dim sum
Kwong Tung
2712 Ingersoll Ave.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday through Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Kwong Tung welcomes the Ox

The Lunar New Year begins Monday, Jan. 26, when the diligent, dependable ox replaces the shrewd, calculating rat as custodian of our fortunes. Half the world’s population awaits that transition as eagerly as stalwart Democrats celebrated the more worldly transfer of powers that took place in Washington, D.C. last week. Even if you don’t believe in astrological powers, the Rat’s reign can’t end soon enough. So put on your lucky reds, water those auspicious azaleas, leave food on the shrine to your ancestors and honor the Ox.

Now in their 104th year here, Chinese restaurants represent Des Moines’ oldest ethnic café tradition. The Rat was especially unkind to them — The Mandarin, Yee Garden and King Ying Low all closed after many decades. That made Kwong Tung (KT) the honored elder among the city’s Chinese restaurants. Elders have distinct advantages over new kids on the block, not the least of which is that they have often retired their mortgages and lowered their overhead costs. I suspect that’s the case at KT because large lunches cost less than $4 and big dinners less than $10.

There are also disadvantages, not the least of which is that loyal customers resist changes. KT’s weekday menu was filled with Middle American Chinese recipes that fed the Baby Boomers and their kids. All were generous with fresh vegetables, meats or shrimp, dried shiitakes, bamboo shoots and fresh ginger. Their sauces — brown, oyster, sweet & sour, teriyaki, tomato and white — were all starch thickened and bore textures similar to institutional gravies. I tried my first egg fu young in decades and loved it, but only after scraping off the brown gelatinous sauce. My favorite weekday dish was “northern style beef” in which ginger stood out.

The Ox brings good news. Recently Kwong Tung added a completely new, “Sunday only” service that has become the best Chinese menu in town, as well as one of the best bargains. Dim sum-sized plates were priced $2 - $4 with the singular exception of a whole fish, introduced to celebrate the Year of the Ox, at $8. Most other dishes compared well with those of West Coast dim sum joints. Dumplings are the heart of dim sum. Siu mai, the most familiar looking dumpling, had the appearance of an open basket with its homemade pork sausage flowing over of the top. Fun gor and har gow were both marvelously executed in translucent, rice paper wrappers (with a touch of wheat starch in the dough) stuffed with whole shrimp, noodles and vegetables. Gow gee were pan-fried dumplings, differing from “potstickers” in the shape of their wrapper. Wu gok were my favorites — taro paste was stuffed with mushroom bits and deep fried into a crunchiness sweet enough for dessert.

Fung jeow (chicken feet) are an acquired texture, resistant to chewing and challenging to many intestinal systems. The intestines served at KT (beef tripe) were much more palatable — simmered in a light ginger sauce to a texture similar to turkey skin. The curried squid seemed to be a work-in-progress — marvelously seasoned but too chewy. Stuffed sweet peppers (the most popular item) were full of shrimps and shrimp paste and drizzled with a marvelous black bean sauce that could revive the weekday menu. For heartier appetites, “fun” dishes mixed stir-fries with wide wheat noodles and steamed fish, riblets, etc. Jin dui (deep fried sesame balls filled with sweet red bean paste) are Des Moines’ fastest growing dessert item. Custard tarts were the most American-like dessert.

Side Dishes
Facing imminent completion from a new Hy-Vee (and it’s cheap “Chinese buffets”) across the street, The Mandarin closed after four decades in Beaverdale. El Aguila Real announced plans to occupy its site… Fong’s Pizza announced a January 26 opening in the old King Ying Low venue downtown, with late night hours… Prairie Meadows announced a 35-item Chinese New Years Buffet for January 26. CV
Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
Best & Worst of 2008 (01-01-09) Maxie’s (01-08-09)
Fawn's (01-15-09)  

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