I am always amazed by the quality of Cantonese food in the Bay Area regardless of what little hole-in-the-wall you happen to chance upon in certain neighborhoods. I am in Sacramento for a friend’s wedding last weekend, and my friend Carlos takes me to T Kee, a restaurant his Chinese colleague raves about. The restaurant itself is run down and on the shabby side. It is also quiet on a Friday night which makes me a little nervous. The menu looks good though, so I go ahead and order a bunch of dishes which jump out at me.
A bowl of soup is dropped off at the table and I immediately perk up. It is 老火湯 or a “daily soup” which is typical at a Cantonese restaurant, as a starter, generally compliments of the house. Its flavor is robust, evident of how long it’s been simmering with pork, carrots, dried mustard greens and various grains. It is nourishing and satisfying.
Eggplant and Cod braised in a claypot arrives piping hot and I love the caramelization all around. The fish is tender, as is the eggplant, and so packed with flavor.
Of course, a plate of greens is in order. Ong choy, or Chinese water spinach is sautéed with fermented bean curd makes for a great addition to our meal. Carlos is a highly adventurous eater, so I am not the least bit concerned when ordering.
Then there is the Chicken Salad — do not confuse it with Chinese chicken salad — which comprises of shredded chicken, strips of jelly fish, cilantro and green onions on a bed of julienne cabbage. The chicken is salt poached (or baked) and is reminiscent of a famous Hakka dish — one of my grandma’s favorites. Brings back memories indeed!
Our last item is one I am most looking forward to. Salty Fish and Minced Pork Meatloaf Claypot Rice is something I’m always craving. Some restaurants in OC offer it, but rarely prepared well. The ginormous claypot nestles a hunking amount of rice – which I’m reluctant to touch as I’m waiting for the crispy bottom to form – but I spoon some rice, pork and salty fish into my bowl relishing on the familiar taste my mouth longs for. After 15 minutes, there is a good amount of crispy rice at the bottom of the pot which we scrape off. The crunchy texture is delicious.
And true to any legitimate Cantonese restaurant – which I knew it was when the soup arrived – there is complimentary dessert at the end of the meal, in the form of mung bean and sago soup. It possesses a hint of sweetness with a nuttiness from the green mung beans.
I’m happy for this meal, but it frustrates me that there is such a lack of good Cantonese food in Orange County. I’m making 老火湯 as I’m typing this.
T Kee Restaurant
1910 Fruitridge Rd
Sacramento, CA 95822