Kirin Court is known for its dim sum—on weekends, the line snakes down the stairs from the elegant upstairs dining room—and for the lacquered Peking duck that comes to the table sliced and fanned so you can stuff it into flour buns. But a meal that skirts these standards is wonderful, revealing the depth and range of the Chinatown doyen.
My favorite dish, on a recent night, was roast duck and taro root, one of their beautifully executed clay pot selections that come sizzling to the table, wafting tantalizing aromas when the wait staff dramatically lifts the lid. Tucked into its cauldron, the taro was soft, the duck strong and rich, the duo mesmerizing in a sauce of ginger and coconut milk with leeks and straw mushrooms. It was the most soulful rendition of taro I’ve ever eaten.
Abalone slices came draped over baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, a flower for which the bok choy were the petals. This is one of the showpiece dishes of formal Chinese cuisine. The abalone was not the exorbitantly expensive fresh, but superb quality canned. Both dishes were perfect examples of the Cantonese subtlety that lets sauces gracefully enhance. Many such dishes come under the menu section entitled “Dishes With Vegetables.” It’s here you’ll find Cantonese cuisine’s delightful compositions involving things like dried scallop and bamboo pith over greens. It is worth being adventurous.
We loved, too, much of the dim sum we ordered that night. White radish cakes had a soft, fluffy rice flour texture. Shrimp and leek dumplings popped with flavor. The skins are translucent and tender. Dip them in vinegar and soy sauce, and accent with the uncannily addictive house-made chile sauce. Sticky rice was a little mushy, filled with pork and mushrooms and steamed in a lotus leaf (which lends its fragrance). Chicken and ginseng soup left something to be desired, despite ginseng segments and bony knuckles and hunks of black chicken meat. Here, the Cantonese idiom was perhaps too subtle.
During a break in the meal, look around. Take in the ceremonial garments on the wall, the classic accents of gold and red. It’s a stately formality that’s comforting for a veteran spot and accompanies service that’s gracious and efficient. We ended with fresh baked egg custard tarts, their crusts shattering and buttery.