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Inspired by Anne Limpert's praise of the restaurant in her chat last week and heeding her call to visit now before it gets too popular (plus, wanting to go before I move from DC in a week (!!)), we checked out Queen's English in the old KBC space last night. In what seems to be common with good restaurants these days, it is run by a man and a woman pair (ala Himitsu, Espita, Seylou, Bad Saint, Rooster & Owl, etc.). Similar to Rooster & Owl, Seylou and Espita, in this case the pair are husband and wife. We walked in at 6:05 to a mostly empty restaurant (it filled up later but was never jammed) and our party of four was seated by the gracious, knowledgeable and likable Sarah Thompson, the aforementioned front of house maven. The place is beautifully redecorated with bright colors that fit the Hong Kong theme. The wine list (available online) is replete with natural wines (a focus of Sarah's), but we went for cocktails instead. All of them were funky -- in a good way -- either bitter or brightly citrusy without being too sweet. They struck me as drinks that Tiger Fork's imo terrible drinks aspire to be, with less gimmick. I enjoyed two pours of zucca, which is one of my favorite amari. Onto the food. As you can see, there are about 16 menu items, and they recommended 3 dishes or so per person. So we decided to make it easy and order basically the entire menu, skipping only the "PB&J" and the chicken. We were then treated to a parade of deliciousness, with the cucumber/trout roe dish standing out from the first batch. The combination of roe with fresh cucumbers thinly sliced and a vinegar-based sauce hit the spot. In the next group, the twice-cooked lamb rib and daikon fritters are two of the best things I've eaten in a long time. I would highly, highly recommend these as must-orders. I liked the twice-cooked lamb rib more than the one at Tail Up Goat, though I haven't had that for more than a year. The daikon fritters have a perfect texture and a great mix of sweet and salty. The shrimp were massive and tasty, but not incredible. I don't remember much about the steam water egg and dumpling, but I'm sure I enjoyed them. For our mains, I loved the bok choy and young pea greens, which were both on the bitter-veggie side, but they are quite similar, so I'd recommend getting one or the other. The star of this course was definitely the sweet & sour branzino, which came in a sauce that reminded me of a much better version of buffalo sauce. Super tender fish and briny cabbage made it a great dish. Unsurprisingly, the crispy rice was also a hit. More than just fried rice, this is like burnt rice that hasn't been charred, so it is...crunchy, hence the name. Same flavors as fried rice, just a new texture. I liked it. Shockingly, the biggest miss of the night was the hand cut noodles, which we were all so excited for. They come buried under a mix of what seemed to be bell peppers, reminding us almost of fajitas. The flavors didn't compare to the other dishes we had. On another note, we saw the chicken when the waiter walked by with it for someone else--and it looked great. For dessert, the house treated us to the only dessert on the menu, which was a caramel custard that was incredibly sweet and caramelly--but not in a bad way. Two bites of it was plenty, as enjoyable as those bites were. Afterwards, chef Henji Cheung came out to our table to ask us how we liked everything! We almost wonder whether he thought we were professional reviewers, but our lengthy conversation likely dissuaded him of that notion. He spoke to us about his background (grew up in HK and NY) and how they found the spot here. They live around the corner and say this restaurant has been a true labor of love for them, working constantly to make it as good as they hope. Both him and Sarah were incredibly nice and appreciative of our patronage. Honestly, we were full by the end but not overly stuffed--if going with a party of four adults, I would recommend doing much as we did, but adding the chicken, dropping the noodles, and dropping one of the greens dishes. This place is going to be a hit and doesn't take reservations, so go now while you can.
Skip mid range and go decidedly low range in Chinatown! XO Kitchen 148 Hester Street New York, NY 10013 212/965-8645