South Side Restaurant Review: KS Seafood
By Chuck Sudo in Food on Feb 26, 2007 4:00PM
Back in our Chinese New Year post, we recommended that readers check out the recently opened KS Seafood, in the Chinatown Square Plaza. It's located in a small storefront, filled tightly with large banquet tables and seating in every available open space. KS Seafood is one of only two restaurants in the city that specializes in Taiwanese cuisine. Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, "It's all Chinese food. How does Taiwanese cooking differ from Mandarin, Cantonese, and Szechwan?" Indeed, it is a valid and interesting query, grasshopper.
Rather than blow smoke up orifices intended mainly for expectoration, we asked manager Tom Wu that very question. Mr. Wu said that Taiwanese food tends to be drier, lacking the rich sauces and gravies that typify other Chinese cuisine styles. Taiwanese food isn't as salty and incorporates influences from other regions besides the Chinese mainland, like Japan, indigenous Formosans, aboriginals, and even the West. Because of its island location and dense population, Taiwanese rely more on seafood for protein. Common seafood found in Taiwanese cooking include crab, lobster, clams, squid, and cuttlefish. Pork and beef are also common ingredients, but not to the extent of seafood. The result is a style of cooking that looks simple to the eye, but with complex layers of flavor.
After Mr. Wu explained Taiwanese cooking to us, we suggested that it could probably be called "naked Chinese cooking." His expression indicated that we're not very good a creating jokes on the fly. Thankfully, it was after an adventurous and filling meal that had us won over. Our full review after the jump.
After receiving our complimentary tea, we started with a soup we thought might have had some loose interpretation of English until it was served. But there was nothing lost in translation about the tofu, pork blood, and tripe soup, which came in bowl big enough to serve at least four. This savory broth is loaded with thick slices of crimson-colored tofu and tender ringlets of pork intestine, seasoned with spices and scallions. It's worth noting that the less noble parts of the pig are vital components of cuisines around the world, particularly island-based cuisines, where no part of an animal is wasted. Today's pork is leaner and cleaner than the "swine flesh" of years past, and if you want to step out of your comfort zone, this is a great first step.
The soup primer had us ready for our entree, sea bass encrusted with dried soybean. Here was an example of surface simplicty and complex combinations of flavor. However, the highlight of this dish was the contrast in texture between the crunchiness of the dried soybean, and the flaky, buttery magnificence of the sea bass. The fish simply melted in our mouths. A side cup of rice allowed us to sop up what juices of the dishes that remained.
If you aren't the adventurous sort, KS Seafood also offers a selection of Szechwan favorites, as well as standard appetizers like spring and egg rolls. The pot stickers here are enormous — a loose tasty mess of pork-based filling wrapped in a light dough. Mr. Wu and his staff were attentive throughout, answering every question we asked and ensuring we were satisfied. Mr. Wu said that weeknights are particularly busy, so we caught them on a slow night. KS Seafood is also BYOB, so you can bring a nice bottle of wine for your dinner. The total cost of our meal, before tip, was around 35 dollars. Don't let that sticker shock scare you; all of the selections we ordered were prepared with sharing in mind. We have leftovers for at least the following three days.
For a taste of Taiwan only steps from the Red Line, head to KS Seafood. Located at 2163 A China Place (near the Princeton side of Chinatown Square Plaza), they're open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. You can call them at 312-842-1238. In a plaza full of culinary gems, KS Seafood is a rare one.