Cravin' Asian cuisine, I found myself at Te Kei's Chinese/Asian Kitchen, 1616 S. Utica Ave., recently, and having dined there many times already, I knew I was in for a brilliant evening of rejuvenated Asian dishes.
Maybe "rejuvenated" is not the best adjective, but Kitchen Manager Azem Howard describes the cuisine as "Pan-Asian, palatized for the Okie." Diners will find influences from Asia, Japan, Thailand, Korea, China and India on the menu. While not Asian-authentic in all aspects, the cuisine has numerous Asian influences, nonetheless.
Such juxtapositions as Korean Tacos and Edamame, and Wonton Soup and Te Kei's Chicken Noodle Soup, or even Pad Thai alongside Southwest Asian Noodles will have diners debating on dinner selections. Howard said he and his staff change the menu two to three times a year, with the bottom sales items rotating off the menu to make space for some "new inventive and creative item."
He said his top selling dishes are the Sesame Chicken (tempura chicken breast with sesame seeds, broccoli and green onions in a sweet sesame seed sauce) and Mongolian Beef (sirloin beef marinated in a secret sauce, stir-fried with mushrooms, red bell peppers, green and white onions and bean sprouts).
Also ordered often are the Thai Chicken Salad, Asian Breast of Duck and all the appetizers -- especially when they are half price between 4-6pm each day.
He raves about Pearl's Lemon Chicken -- the recipe of which he said was nuanced from Pearls Chinese restaurant in New York City. This dish features chicken breast, green peppers, carrots, onions and pineapple in a tart lemon sauce.
1616 S. Utica Ave., 918-382-7777
My dining companion and I arrived at Te Kei's on a Monday evening, a relatively slow night by restaurant standards, but strangely busy this particular evening. Positioned in a booth, we established ourselves and studied the menu. We began with two appetizers, Te Kei's Potstickers ($7.45) and Korean Tacos ($7. 95).
"Unbelievable," is how Howard describes the Potstickers. "They are steamed first, then fried, and the sauce is what sets these apart." And, we agreed. Each one is filled with a mixture of chicken, garlic, ginger and onion. These six dumplings, arranged on a plate and resting in the soy-cream sauce, were slightly crispy, and with a little dip in the creamy soy-sauce, each bite begged for another.
The Korean Tacos were beautifully prepared. A slightly fried white corn tortilla was layered with marinated pork, caramelized onions, thinly sliced avocado and chopped cilantro, then topped with tomatillo and Korean BBQ sauces.
The result of this Mexican-Asian fusion was incredible. The freshness and coolness of the cilantro and avocado, together with the tender pork and onions was flavor-propelled with the barbeque sauce and tomatillo sauce. "It's creative," said Howard, adding that the Hoisen sauce, a Chinese soy-based dipping sauce commonly used for barbequing, is what makes this appetizer stand apart.
Next, my dining companion had a cup of the Hot and Sour soup ($2.95). This traditional Chinese favorite came with a "touch of pepper" -- black and red pepper. Additionally, this thick and rich soup had tofu, shitake mushrooms, pork pieces and eggs. My friend described the peppery hot as having a "strong depth -- the peppery heat radiating after each bite." It was much more hot than sour, he said.
For our dinner, we reviewed the selections from the various sections: Salads, Rice Bowls, Specialties, Noodle Bowls and Sushi. I selected Szechuan Blackened Chile Noodles ($10.95) and my friend chose a half rack of Asian Spareribs ($12.95).
Off the Boat.
The Szechuan Blackened Chile Noodles were okay -- not exactly the best noodle bowl I have experienced. Beginning with the presentation which seemed as if the noodles were haphazardly tossed into the bowl, the taste and texture were less than what I expected. Gummy and gooey best describes the texture; the flavor was of sesame oil.
This dish consisted of chopped chicken breast with pan-blackened chiles, garlic, onion and peanuts in a spicy sauce served on Chinese egg noodles. The noodles were too soft while the best part about the bowl was the Arbol chiles which Howard explains are toasted and then tossed into the dish.
On the other hand, my friend's Asian Spareribs were excellent. Nicely presented on a rectangular dish, these ribs are worth repeating. Definitely catering to the Okie palate, these pork spareribs seem like an anomaly on an Asian menu. Howard said the preparation for these ribs is about three days in the making, as they marinate and are then baked with a special sauce and finished on the grill.
The ending result is crispy, noticeably slow-roasted ribs with layers of sweet barbeque sauce on top. Each bite was a rich comingling of tender pork with Asian persuasion sauce. My friend commented that even barbecuing enthusiasts such as a certified K.C. barbecue judge would have to give these ribs high marks for taste, tenderness and appearance.
The ribs came with wasabi potatoes and freshly-sliced red onions. The potatoes lacked a wasabi flavor, but were creamy and blended well with the ribs. My friend even enjoyed the grilled jalapeño pepper that came with the dish, adding a jolt of spiciness to an occasional bite.
After all this, we finished the meal sharing a slice of Banana Cream Pie ($4.95) which our server, Kristi, said is her favorite item on the menu. Rich banana custard filled a chocolate-lined pastry shell, and then was topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. This was a fine touch to end this dinner. Banana and chocolate flavors were delicately balanced with the crispy crust.
Secondary only to the meal is the incredible décor in Te Kei's. Howard said there are more than "a million dollars worth of artifacts in the building from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and China." These artifacts, he said, reflect the culture of the people, as well as their religious beliefs. He pointed out the intricately carved wooden wall in a banquet room was brought here from an old palace in Indonesia. Architecturally, he said even the angles of the walls are attractive features.
Te Kei's is a definite must for Asian dining. Our service was very good -- maybe a little too quick with the entrees before finishing the appetizers, but Kristi was attentive and pleasant throughout the evening. Creative Asian cuisine catering to the local palate in an intriguing atmosphere of artifacts and architectural cleverness, you are a "special guest" of "Te Kei" here.
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