11/11/2005 — House of Kim boasts a classic cafÃ©-front that blends in well with the antique shops and used bookstores in historic downtown Nampa.
It would be a great location for a movie. Remember the Chinese restaurant in "A Christmas Story?" The place where the family went after their neighbor's hounds ate the holiday turkey?
It kind of looks like that restaurant — campy red vinyl booths and dingy walls included.
I didn't see any Peking duck on the menu (too bad), but there is plenty of generic Szechwan and Mandarin-style fare to go around, with generic being the operative word.
Owner Lon Ooi comes from Malaysia, meaning there are a few Malay specialties and some standard dishes from neighboring Thailand, as well.
Diners can choose from a short list of Chinese appetizers, like pork and seeds, pot stickers and egg rolls.
Do yourself a favor and skip the hot wings ($5.95), though, because these soggy-skinned chicken drumettes (drenched in red pepper sauce) are nothing to brag about.
The pot stickers ($5.95), however, are a noteworthy pick. Six plump dumplings (grilled on one side) come packed with seasoned ground pork, scallion, carrot and cabbage. Tiny bowls of red chili oil and ginger-soy sauce are conveniently placed on the table for dipping.
One night, we asked our server about Malaysian noodle dishes. She recommended the char keow teow special ($8.95), which turned out to be a lackluster heap of wide rice noodles mingled with overcooked beef shreds, chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts and scallion. There wasn't much of a flavor profile going on with this dish. We were thankful for the leftover red chili oil.
Mu shu pork ($8.95) is a traditional Shantung dish with stir-fried strands of pork, scallion, cabbage, bamboo shoots, wood mushrooms and scrambled egg in a semi-sweet brown sauce, served with an even sweeter hoisin sauce.
I don't like that the kitchen rolls the Peking pancakes around the mu shu mixture. Part of the fun of this dish in other Chinese restaurants is rolling them yourself. Plus, House of Kim rolls the pancakes too fat and loose, making them next to impossible to eat — most of the filling ends up on your plate, and there are no extra pancakes to re-roll them.
The Szechwan beef ($8.95) is a safe bet, with its tender medallions of beef tossed in a red chili flake-kicked sauce with snow peas, zucchini, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and onion. A mound of steamed rice helps to cool the fire.
I was told there is no MSG in the Chinese food.
The Thai cuisine at House of Kim seems to be marginally better than the Chinese fare.
You can't go wrong by ordering the green curry with tofu ($9.95), a bowl of piquant coconut milk-infused curry pocked with sweet peas, bamboo shoots, onion, basil and steamed tofu cubes. A side of fragrant jasmine rice is there to soak up the silky sauce.
House of Kim's pra ram longson ($9.95) is a simple creation that puts wok-seared meat (pork, in our case) in a gingery peanut sauce, crowned with crunchy little broccoli trees.
Unfortunately, on one visit, the pad Thai ($8.95) was a colorless clump of overcooked rice noodles tossed with slimy green onion, chicken shreds, overly brown egg curds and carrot. The customary crushed peanuts, red chili sambal and lime wedge were nowhere in sight.
Like most Asian restaurants, House of Kim does some dishes better than others, yet many of the plates lack color and pizzazz. Service is pleasant enough, though.
James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@ earthlink.net.