Mr. K’s is truly a classic Chinese restaurant serving the most delightful dishes from Shanghai, Peking, Hunan, and the Szechuan regions since it opened in NYC in 1998. It also happens to be one of my favorite places to eat and one of the few remaining upscale Chinese restaurants left in town – one by one my other favorite haunts have taken their tea and wok’d out of the city for good.
Mr. K’s (named for the owner, Johnny Kao) is as good as (if not superior to) any of the best restaurants in Hong Kong and infinitely prettier. Hong Kong, and the restaurants that I visited on a recent trip have become very reminiscent of Chinatown in NY – (spoiler alert, the restaurants are not very beautiful, in fact, due to the overpopulation of the city and storefront space, a lot of the fancier restaurants have opened on the top floors of – yes – shopping malls.) Odd, right? That colossal and winding escalator rice ride was the oddest way I have ever arrived at an eatery. And you would think that after all the work it took to hike to Mt. Everest to dine, the meal would be the tops, but sadly, that was not the case for me.
Mr. K’s is far from China, but infinitely more elegant, a lot tastier and very authentic Chinese – it also features the perfect amount of ambiance, to trump any meals that this dumpling tasted in their homeland. The Lexington Avenue location is on the ground floor of the original GE building, and naturally the decor and interiors follow the art deco design of the building, featuring very high scalloped golden arched ceilings, painted in a pale rose pink, (truly evocative of any old established Hollywood or Palm Springs restaurant in the 1950’s.) The once plush, now matted carpets are also dusted with worn peachy colors (it would have to be tough, in the winter slushy boot traffic, to keep that rose looking rosy) but the floor is not what catches the eye. The art, as in the deco, the etched and stained glass, the gold, beaded window treatments and the cabinets of carefully placed celebrity chopsticks (that ALL newcomers fawn over) take your breath away. Anybody who is anybody seems to have a pair engraved with their name – the Donald – recently in for dinner apparently asked upon arrival to remove his own pair. (Even he can be Trumped, you don’t have to earn your chops at all to get some of your own sticks to use, its possible to call ahead and have personalized ones awaiting your arrival.)
But it is all about the food, and their food is superior. My favorites are any and all of the vegetarian offerings – vegetable spring rolls, Ma Po tofu, vegetable fried rice, sauteed eggplant and candied walnuts. Nothing is too daring or overly spicy. The dishes are light, basic, delicious, featuring unique, seasonal greens, baby broccolini, mini spring sprouts, tiny snap peas, silky, soft tofu and very good rice, my favorite being the fried sort, full of any and all veggies.
The cutlery is gold (very festive, especially at this time of year) they serve an amuse at mid-course, (even though the same lemon sorbet mini scoop is redundant, it is always welcome) and the cool, attentive staff are there to please, to hand out a warm face towel or to take pictures at the celebrity sticks on display for the chinese tourists that come to check out life on the ground floor. And unlike a lot of stuffy establishments, everyone is made to feel at home the moment they glide through the artsy revolving door for a dazzling movie star entry.
Mr. K’s is a serious restaurant complete with elegance, charm and wonderful food and you don’t have to climb a mountain or a stairway to get there. 出租车.
Photographs by Viva Violeta Photography