For a recent Birthday Bunch brunch – ANM’s – the group trooped down to Brooklyn for a HK Cafe style meal. (Ok, in all fairness, there wasn’t much trooping; Dr. PB (formerly MD) lives in outer LI and on her way in picked up MK and I from Queens; the Manhattanites drove in and the rest of the bunch live in Brooklyn somewhere. Since we’re scattered like so, it isn’t that big of a deal… I’m just a lazy ass.)
I’ve mentioned HK cafe cuisine briefly before in a post on XO Kitchen but I’ll explain it again. It’s what I’ve now decided is the original Asian fusion; the cuisine at such places is essentially “American” or “Western” cuisine (so called because every place is west of Asia on a map, haha) created from an Asian person – a Chinese person’s perspective, in a Chinese kitchen. I’ve never been to HK sadly, but I’ve been told by my friends who have that these places are everywhere and very popular to have tea & snacks around tea time (bearing in mind that HK was a British colony for a very long time), and that there are places that do things better than others…
Among the items offered at any good HK cafe will be:
thick-cut toast (Japanese bread, I believe) spread with condensed milk, sticky sweet, sometimes with coconut added somehow, sometimes only spread with butter (I didn’t really grow up eating these items, so I rarely order them);
spaghetti made with a ketchup-like sauce that I wouldn’t be surprised if it really were ketchup;
borscht made without beets usually (a tomato broth with bits of beef – closer to a thin beef vegetable soup, actually, but nonetheless referred to as borscht);
various cream sauces that seem French in nature;
and other such wonderful inventions that I did enjoy growing up such that I never realized they weren’t standard versions. For example, it took me going to a Russian restaurant to realize there are beets in borscht, and it took me a while after that to understand why there weren’t beets in my father’s version of borscht. (I’d thought it was because he didn’t like beets; it was actually because he simply grew up eating this version.)
Because of this style of cuisine, I grew up eating a lot of almost-but-not-quite, somewhat off dishes, such as cans of (New England) clam chowder heated up and served over spaghetti (which I liked until one day I decided I don’t like to mix starches, and I haven’t looked back), spaghetti stir-fried with celery, chicken, soy sauce, garlic, and some other veggies (which I loved and tastes GOOD, btw), which I would beg to be allowed to add ketchup to and that was delicious, I insist,… and other assorted invented dishes from my well-meaning parents.
But enough of the trip down memory lane and all that fun stuff. You’re here for the food.
We actually went with a large crowd – easily 15 people, maybe more, and a couple of infants as well – and took up about half the restaurant. I will emphasize here and again later that this is not the kind of place you go to with such a large group. They very clearly are not used to having to deal with that many people at once.
Dream Kitchen has a set menu/prix fixe though, for $8.50 you get your choice of salad (above with ranch dressing) or…
borscht! This one actually had beets in it – or some people had beets, others said there were none in theirs (I had the salad above, so I can’t say), and at least two people said it was spicy. The weird thing was, the soup is borscht or “soup of the day” but when I asked the waiter what the soup of the day was, he just kept saying borscht (his English wasn’t that great, so a lot of our ordering was stilted). However, when he got to the last person, he offered that person lentil soup, and so that person received lentil soup! Very odd.
You also got to choose from their menu of entrees over your choice of rice or spaghetti. This was LC’s hamsteak with pineapple sauce. He said it was alright.
Dr. PB’s pork chop over spaghetti. Again, she said it was alright – she rarely complains about food but she was not very enthusiastic about this and didn’t seem to like it that much. “It was okaaaay,” you know?
The birthday girl, ANM, who chose the place, had told me that she often ordered the seafood stew here, and requested it over spaghetti but here it came with rice. Since it took a very, very long time for our food to come, she decided not to bother with asking them to switch it. I didn’t try it, but she said it was good, the same as it always is. It looks pretty good and LOTS of seafood. I imagine it to taste a bit ketchup-y though, so if that’s not your flavor, you may want to avoid it.
As for myself, I didn’t see what I normally get at these places on the menu (a fish dish that I adore and will have to make a point to go to my fave place in Chinatown soon to get some…), so after a lot of thought, I decided, why not, and ordered the fried fish. I don’t know if these are frozen – if so, I want to know the brand – but they came piping hot, lightly breaded and very thin. I was very happy with the dish – it was good, very crispy, and the tartar sauce was what I like (although a wedge of lemon might have been nice). The spaghetti had a plop of cream sauce and mixed veggies on top – I briefly wished there was a little bit more cream sauce – but overall, I was satisfied and full at the end of the meal.
For a total of about $12-13 a person – which included treating the birthday girl, and I ordered a hot chocolate (other people ordered coffee, tea, maybe a beer somewhere, not sure) – I think this was a steal. The price is right, anyway, and it’s directly across the street from the R train Bay Parkway station, though I wouldn’t say this is destination dining (as in, don’t go out of your way to eat here). However, some of my dining companions did mention they didn’t like Dream Kitchen’s style of certain dishes – apparently, they are done differently at other HK-cafe-cuisine places, which can be a bit weird when you try to order something and think you’re getting one thing but get another. There’s no real standardization of the cuisine, so it’s not like it’s wrong, just someone else’s version.
Yvo says: Seriously, the price is right, though don’t go out of your way to eat here. It passed in my book, but I didn’t order anything wild or crazy… The table next to us ordered lobster something or other and that looked pretty damn good, probably wasn’t awfully expensive, either. Most of the people in there were Asian and looked happy with their food, and there will be a language barrier (though easily overcome by pointing on the menu) if you go there without some understanding of Cantonese, but if you don’t look Asian, that probably won’t present much of a problem (if you look Asian, they may try to speak Cantonese to you, is all, but you can always just shake your head and/or speak English to them and they’ll accomodate you).
middle of the road – in the area looking for cheap eats, why not?
(I don’t know Brooklyn well at all, so I don’t know if there’s better cheap eats in the area, so please don’t shout at me if that’s true!) 🙂