While much of the old style Toishanese/Cantonese Chinese food of the early and mid-1950s is forgettable, one dish I've always enjoyed is pressed almond duck, a.k.a. War Shu Opp. In Los Angeles where Chinese food tastes are more sophisticated than anywhere else in the country except the San Francisco Bay area, which is equally progressive, pressed almond duck is probably still available only at a handful of Chinese restaurants. Undoubtedly the leading purveyor is Paul's Kitchen where I grew up enjoying the dish in the 1950s and 1960s before real Chinese food arrived in the United States in the late 1960s. And while I never gave up my fondness for this dish, neither was it worth going out of the way to Paul's Kitchen location in the City Market section of downtown Los Angeles, which was the real Chinatown of Los Angeles from the 1930s to the 1960s, or places like Canton City and Chinese Garden in Montebello.
However just recently I found this dish at a most surprising location, Kim's Restaurant on Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles. This was a surprise to me for three reasons. First of all Kim's hasn't been around nearly as long as Paul's Kitchen, and secondly I lived near Kim's Restaurant for probably 25 to 30 years and was not aware that had that dish on the menu, though that was many years ago. And over the years there have been a number of discussions on the food message boards about the dwindling number of restaurants serving the dish and Kim's never came up. Actually, Kim's was probably the closest Chinese restaurant to where we lived, but we seldom ate there. That's because of their more Americanized Chinese cuisine, so we did most of our Chinese dining in the City Market area at locations such as Paul's Kitchen, On Luck, New Moon, Paul's Cafe, and Li Wah. Only when Johnny, our favorite waiter from On Luck landed there did we visit Kim's Restaurant more often.
Actually I had pretty much forgotten about Kim's Restaurant until they were involved in an incident at the start of the pandemic in my first Menuism article on the effect of the pandemic on Chinese restaurants. As many of you recall, when COVID-19 arrived in the United States it was often described in terms like "Chinese virus" and "kung flu" which lead to a backlash against things Chinese, and particularly Chinese restaurants. As a result of unspecified acts of anti-Chinese harassment, the owner of Kim's Restaurant closed down, apparently with the intention to never reopen. Word of this episode spread throughout the Crenshaw neighborhoods and the restaurant's customers were highly distressed and expressed their feelings in dozens of postings on the local online message board. Trouble is none of the customers had any idea of how to communicate their outrage as to the event and their affection for Kim's Restaurant and its food. Fortunately the message board thread ultimately came to the attention of somebody who had contact information for the owner, so they printed out the messages and delivered them to the owner. Less than a month later Kim's Restaurant was back in business.
After seeing these events unfold with the ultimate reopening of the restaurant I thought it would be a good idea for me to revisit Kim's Restaurant after a 30 year absence. I actually looked at their menu a couple of times before noticing the almond duck. Finally getting to stop by the restaurant, this was the old familiar fried duck cubes with a little crunch inside, a few nuts on the outside, that wonderful gloppy brown sauce and lettuce on the side.
Actually the Kim Restaurant version is less greasy that the historic version I remember, which is definitely a good thing.