Lunch Out @ Cathay Kitchen

After a recent trip to San Francisco, where we were blown away by an exciting dim sum lunch, as I was writing the post-trip blog post, I googled dim sum in Cincinnati.  The clearest option for dim sum (carts and all) was Grand Oriental, but Cathay Kitchen was also listed as a choice.  Since we were meeting some friends for lunch, Cathay Kitchen was a closer option (they were at the Florence Antique Mall, which was their favorite part of the trip) and we went for it.  I even called ahead to make sure they had dim sum, but I should have known better when the response was a yes, but not a confident one.  This trip turned up some respectable, somewhat authentic Chinese food - but not carts and options galore for dim sum.

The Food:  We had hoped not to order off a menu at all, but since there were no carts (more below on the setting), we settled in for a more typical meal.  The one note of dim sum on the menu was a starter of dim sum, which we ordered.  We also chose some chicken curry pot stickers and shumai dumplings, trying to recreate the multitude of appetizer options we had come in hopes of.  Then, we ordered 3 entrees to split - Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken, and sweet and sour pork.

The chicken pot stickers came first and were straightforward and good.  They came with a simple gyoza-esque sauce that was mostly soy sauce.  Next up were the shumai dumplings, which are one of the many kinds of beautiful looking bites that are about the size of a marshmallow.  The dough that holds the pork inside is twisted at the top and they came in a steamy silver container.  One member of our table (cough *Ben* cough), bit into one just a bit too quickly and then just about spat it back out it was so hot (not spicy hot, but the juices inside the dumpling were scalding).  After learning from that mistake, we all made little holes to let out some steam and then enjoyed the dumplings just fine.  Lastly, the dim sum, which was made up of two different dumplings - one was a light shrimp offering and the other was some sort of sausage with water chesnuts that looked like a little tree stump.  Both of these were just OK in my opinion.

Our three entrees came out and we dug in.  The Mongolian beef was probably my favorite option - the meat was very tender and along with stir-fried onions and chili peppers it had just a bit of a kick.  Kung pao chicken (which I've been meaning to cook for a while, as it is Ezra Klein's favorite - and then I just learned his recipe was adapted, just barely, from Fuschia Dunlop's) is a simple dish, and they did a nice job with small, succulent pieces of chicken to go with the peanuts and chilies in a brown sauce.  I led our dining team astray a bit with the choice of sweet and sour pork.  I was imagining some of the pork I'd been reading about at over-the-top Chinese banquets, not pork that was battered just like sweet and sour chicken at Panda Express at the mall.  It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't very exciting either.

The lunch specials also came with egg rolls, which were standard.

The Ingredients:  Nothing listed as local or organic here, and the language barrier was pretty substantial with our server, so I don't think we would have gotten far in asking.  If we ever return, maybe we'll try.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Cathay Kitchen is smack dab in the middle of a strip mall, just off the interstate.  It's next to an empty storefront and several other small businesses.  We walked in to a completely empty dining room at noon (which did have about 5 tables full at 1:30 when we left).  Needless to say, this is not a place you'd likely come for a romantic dinner (even if the website tells you that's the case).

Our server was kind and smiled sheepishly just about every time we talked (the language barrier was substantial).  There was another staff person who came over to answer some of our questions when we asked about what was the most authentic on the menu, what she liked, that sort of thing.

The Last Bite:  It's highly unlikely we'll be back to Cathay Kitchen because it is so out of the way for us and doesn't have anything special that we could tell.  If it was in Cincinnati and within 10 minutes of Northside then it just might be the best Chinese restaurant around (until I try Chung Ching in College Hill, which I've heard is good).  If we do go back, we'd probably stick to the Mongolian beef.

Cathay Kitchen on Urbanspoon


D R E W said...

i've had good success with dim sum at king wok near UC. it's served every saturday and sunday morning.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

D R E W - thanks for the tip! Do they have the carts and everything?

Anonymous said...

We have you beat on Dim Sum. I'm in Columbus, and Sunflower up here has the carts and is well established, very authentic Hong Kong dim-sum. Just take I-270 to the Sawmill Rd. exit if you ever visit. For Cincy, the best we've ever found is at Uncle Yips at 10736 Reading Rd in the north. My wife is Hong Kong Chinese. I think Uncle Yips had a cart at the time but very small place compared to Sunflower.