At first glance, the sautéed cabbage didn’t look all that impressive: whites and mild greens and the occasional buoy of dried red chili, the whole of it shimmering in a translucent gloss. Okay, I thought, here it is: the inevitable homage to the sort of bland, unexciting Chinese-ish food that so many restaurants, even in Chinatown, have to keep on the menus to appeal to a certain segment of the dining public.
Nope: I had nothing to worry about. Red Kings 2 was on the ball. The gentle sauté of those leaves had brought out a distinct sweetness in them, all the better to counter the numbing, floral heat of Sichuan peppercorns tucked throughout. What I’d mistakenly assumed would be a bit of a bore turned out to be a highlight among a procession of so many other standouts.
Boiled sliced lamb in chili sauce was infinitely more than that humble description, a stunning mountain of earthy meat joined by petals of sweet onions, thick slices of nutty garlic, and snappy broccoli florets. We were told that it’s spicy and asked if we wanted the heat toned no. Absolutely not, we replied: A good move. The spice heat found its footing on the warm end of the spectrum, certainly, but far from the nuclear. And anyway, the comforting, vaguely earthy chili sauce had pooled at the bottom of the metal bowl, which meant that controlling the heat of each bite was easy, depending on where from the pile you snagged lamb slices. Regardless, I would have been happy to drink shots of that gorgeous sauce—it was that good.
Dan dan noodles, also numbing but far from painful, sprinted across the tongue with each slurp. Steamed homemade dumplings swirled with a subtle hint of curry, lending them an all-too-unfamiliar perfume. Wonton soup benefited from a broth as hearty as it was pure.
Red Kings 2, replete with private rooms and plenty of karaoke opportunities upstairs, is a phenomenal addition to Chinatown. The space is simple yet pleasant, service is exceptionally friendly, and the food challenges, inspires, and, as that cabbage proved, rarely disappoints.
RED KINGS 2
1006 Race St. 215.238.1392. redkings2-hub.com
Cuisine: Traditional Sichuan.
Hours: Mon,-Thurs., 11am-3am; Fri.-Sat., 11am-4am; Sun., 11:30am-3am.
Dinner with Luke Palladino