60 Beach St., Boston | 617-542-1763
Before Guchi dreamt up his midnight ramen, before Phillip Tang concocted his pork-belly baos at East by Northeast, Doris and Erwin Mei’s handmade noodles and dumplings drew the likes of Julia Child to their Chinatown hole-in-the-wall, King Fung. In 2008, they sold their business to launch King Fung II in Brookline, but last March the Meis returned to their old haunts to open China King. Located a couple blocks from the Chinatown gate, the restaurant’s prices and portions are generous, even by the neighborhood’s standards. Seven-dollar plates of slick noodles can easily feed two. Scallion pies ($3.95) are as hefty as stuffed envelopes. It’s family-style, alcohol-sopping food that’s large on heart, but not so healthy for that particular organ.
The most expensive and popular item isn’t technically on the menu. The banquet-worthy Peking duck ($38) requires a day’s notice. Prepared with a recipe handed down by an uncle from northern China, the Meis’ duck was scalded with a hot-water-and-honey mixture and hung to dry overnight to ensure a crisp, mahogany skin when roasted. An hour before our reservation, they started handmaking the pancakes to go with the first, and best, of the three courses. After a tableside presentation—an opportunity many diners use for photographs—the duck was spirited back to the kitchen where it was deboned and disassembled. Smeared with hoisin sauce, topped with scallions and rolled in a warm, chewy pancake, the honeyed meat and potato-chip-brittle skin yielded decadent, savory mouthfuls. Unfortunately, this made the subsequent dishes a slight letdown. The second course was a choice between chow mein or a salad of sprouts and carrots, and the third was a basin of duck soup with Napa cabbage. Either way, the delicious parts of the bird had already been served. We found spare shreds of meat in both the noodles and the salad, while bones weighted down the soup.
My favorite dish was less dramatic—the rice cake with pork and pickled cabbage ($7.50). Discs of airy noodles were transformed by the salty-sour combination of meat and preserved vegetables. Similarly delicate was the chow fun with beef ($7.50), tissue-thin sheets of noodles with a stroganoff-like topping of melting meat and bell peppers. Chow mein ($6.95–$7.50) was more like a chewy udon, thick tendrils dripping with sauce; it was a good iteration of a Chinese-American standby, elevated when accompanied by pickled cabbage. Raviolis and dumplings ($6.95 each) were juicy but otherwise unmemorable. If you order them, bypass the doughy, boiled dumplings for the fried version, which gained texture from a light sear. The hot pot ($15.95) with beef and vegetables arrived in a clay cauldron bubbling with hunks of brisket, carrots and turnips softened by a long stew. Its broth had a fragrant, nuanced flavor more redolent of a consommé. Shrimp with spicy sauce ($9.95) proved aptly named, with red pepper flecking the onions and shellfish, but a heavy hand with the brown sauce overwhelmed the miniscule shrimp.
Despite seating only 24, the restaurant is large in spirit—the kind of place that draws groups for the generosity of its portions as well as the gregariousness of its owners. Doris still juliennes carrots in the back when she’s not greeting customers by name, and her husband and brother divide duties in the kitchen. A son, aged 8 when he first worked at King Fung, is now 16 and deftly relays orders. The atmosphere feels like a remnant of an earlier era of Americanized Chinese cuisine.
A few doors down, the China Pearl team just opened a “pan-Asian tapas” restaurant, Shojo, with graffiti-ed walls and craft cocktails. China King belongs to an older Chinatown, when the approach was simple, the prices minimal and the plates were mountainous.
Rice cake with pork and pickled cabbage
Chow fun with beef
Hot pot with beef
Hours: Daily, 11 am-11:30 pm
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicapped Accessible: No