L-R: Niu Kee as seen from St. Laurent; Pan-Fried Shrimp, Kung Pao Chicken, and Pea Shoots with Garlic
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.
Last night we celebrated our friend Benoit’s birthday by going out to his favorite restaurant: Niu Kee (1027 St. Laurent Blvd.). We got tipped off to this place by our friend Warren about a year ago. He and his friend Raf discovered it after they moved into an apartment just a couple of blocks away from Chinatown. Niu Kee has been a bit of an obsession ever since Michelle made her first visit. She’s been introducing all kinds of people to the mysteries of Niu Kee, and Benoit has definitely been the most ecstatic of her initiates. Michelle and Benoit went there very regularly while I was away in Germany. By the time I returned to Montreal Niu Kee was already legendary.
“Niu Kee makes you crazy,” as Michelle is fond of repeating. The atmosphere has something to do with it. The combination of the restaurant’s simple, no-frills décor, the Chinese melodramas that play on the large-screen television, and the presence of the maitresse d’hotel, a former Chinese opera singer, gives the restaurant a certain magic. But the true magic comes from their kitchen’s use of spice—you see, Niu Kee specializes in hot and spicy Beijing-style cuisine. Order their Hot and Sour Soup, their Kung Pao Chicken, their Pan-Fried Shrimp, their Spicy Eggplant, or anyone of a number of other favorites, and the peppers—especially Szechuan pepper, with its nearly narcotic properties—come fast and furious. Niu Kee is definitely not one of those restaurants that tones down its recipes to appease middle-of-the-road palates—the effects of this symphony of fire are powerful, to say the least—we’re left both cleansed and dazed every time.
Anyway, Niu Kee was where we started the evening and the four of us—Benoit, Michelle, “Mike,” and I—polished off an absurd assortment of Niu Kee’s delicacies. Something about Niu Kee gives you almost superhuman abilities to eat and eat. I started things off with a (not so) small Hot and Sour Soup, while the others split a large Beef Soup with Homemade Noodles. We then lucked out and had some of their Pork with Green Vegetables Dumplings—they’re Michelle’s favorite dumplings, but she’s only ever been able to have them one other time: they’re always sold out. Our mains and sides consisted of Kung Pao Chicken (the best any of us has ever had), Pan-Fried Shrimp, Spicy Eggplant, and Pea Shoots with Garlic. We thought we’d be bringing leftovers home with us, but, NO, somehow, once again, we managed to finish every last bit. It wasn’t even a struggle. “Niu Kee makes you crazy,” indeed.
We trudged back out into the snow in a state of bliss, got into Benoit’s car, and made our way back up north towards Benoit’s birthday party.