"Have you ever eaten at Kim Son Cafe ?" I recently asked a food-loving friend. "Are you kidding me?" he said. "I eat there at least once a week - they have some of the best food in the area."
This was a meaningful statement coming from this particular friend, as he eats at some of the finest establishments around town, on a regular basis. But, it wasn't the first time I'd heard such things; many friends and acquaintances had made similar comments. These accolades, along with deliciously unforgettable samples of Kim Son's pan-fried dumplings at a local food expo, promised good things from the restaurant's pan-Asian cuisine. I paid a visit to Kim Son Cafe's Woodlands location to try it myself.
A friend and I arrived hungry and with high expectations - little did we know that we were setting ourselves up for disappointment. Kim Son's sleek interior was inviting, but the night was too beautiful to pass up the opportunity to dine al fresco. We settled in on the restaurant's spacious patio, located in the heart of The Woodlands Town Center. Perusing the extensive menu was quite a task, as there was so much variety to choose from - everything from vermicelli to sushi to soups and salads, noodles, fried rice, Vietnamese rolls, and a large selection of both vegetarian and meat-heavy dishes.
Striving to whet my appetite with something simple, I began my Kim Son experience with an unassuming bowl of miso soup. This soup - whose broth was flavorful and dotted with the expected tofu, seaweed, and green onions - would have been a pretty decent bowl of miso, had it not been for its inexcusable tepid temperature. Ever had miso soup that's not steaming-hot? If you haven't, just take my word for it: it is less than good.
The next dish was Shanghai steamed dumplings, which consisted of four generously portioned dumplings topped with julienned ginger served atop a small puddle of soy sauce reduction. As I tasted the first dumpling, I was a bit taken aback by its filling; the minced pork, mixed with small pieces of ginger and vegetables, had more of a fluid rather than solid consistency. When I cut into it with our fork and knife, the filling oozed out of the sides of the dumpling wrapping. This was something I'd never before experienced while eating a dumpling. Despite the pleasant flavors, the consistency wasn't pleasant, nor what I'd expected. I hoped to have better luck with our entrees.
But, sometimes you don't get what you wish for. Our first entree consisted of cashew chicken with a side of fried rice. The chicken was steaming hot, plentiful, and composed of a colorful mix of chicken, cashews, onion, bok choy, celery, peas, carrots, Japanese mushrooms, and large, thinly sliced mushrooms that seemed straight from a can. Why any restaurant would add that last ingredient, which does not add but, rather, subtract from the goodness of a dish, might forever remain a mystery. Once I got over my confusion, I tried the dish, only to experience nothing more than disappointing blandness. No expected flavors of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, fish sauce or chili were present. Every bite was just a crunch after crunch (created my the mix of cashews, bok choy, and celery) of flavor-less ingredients.
I turned to the side of shrimp-fried rice to console myself. The fried rice was also bland. The rice, small boiled shrimp, soy beans, and peas again amounted to flavors of nothing.
However, my friend and I still had one more dish left to try that had the potential to turn our frowns upside down: our second entree, the Honk Kong beef noodles. I was relieved to find that the dish - tender, thin slices of beef, flat rice noodles, scallions, and bean sprouts bathed in oyster sauce - had some flavor to it. The beef was wonderful, and its tenderness revealed that its quality was high. If only the quality of the noodles would have mirrored that of the beef, the result would have been a winning combination. But, the noodles were overdone and limp, prompting me to go into the child-like practice of picking the noodles out of the dish.
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Despite its reasonable prices, which don't reflect the fact that it's situated on a large chunk of The Woodlands' prime real estate, I'd be hard-pressed to find a reason to go back to Kim Son Cafe.
I'm curious: Have you ever dined at one of Kim Son Cafe's three locations? If so, was your experience comparable to ours?