I know when to keep it classyEat This!, Latest Issue Thursday, November 9th, 2017
When I find a chef I like, I usually stick with them and remain a loyal fan. But I’ve often wondered where does a chef go when they want something good to eat? So when a chef makes a recommendation about a restaurant, I pay attention. And that is how I found myself at Monkey King, a Pan Asian restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Monkey King is located on the corner of Fifth and Island in a building with a long history of housing Asian concepts. The restaurant is named for a Chinese gambling house which thrived in the basement during the pre-Prohibition years. The city however, began to raid gambling rings in 1935 and the operation never recovered.
I took a seat at the large white marble topped bar in the center of the high-ceilinged room. Some walls are exposed brick and others are illuminated by an ever-changing rainbow of LED lights. Roomy forest green booths ring the space. Gold pinecone lamps hang above each table. Large windows provide a view of the comings and goings on the street. A comfortable and modern – yet old school – space.
Jeff, a bartender I knew from his stint at Pardon My French, greeted me warmly and presented the menu. Dinner selections include dim sum, bao buns, salads, soups, bibimbap bowls (a Korean dish made with vegetables and your choice of protein, topped with a fried egg and served in a hot stone pot), curries, stir fry, fried rice and entrees such as roast duck or mango chicken.
I sipped a craft cocktail while waiting for my food. All Thai’d Up ($13) is a slightly tart and creamy blend of Espolon tequila, coconut milk, lemon grass tea and fresh lime juice. Well balanced and enlivening.
My appetizers arrived hot from the kitchen. The Pork Belly Bao Buns (two for $6) are airy steamed buns filled with bites of delicate deep fried pork belly, chopped green onions and julienned carrots, topped by drizzles of spicy chipotle mayo and sweet eel sauce. Sublime. The crispy Pork Spring Rolls ($10) are bursting with mild ground pork sausage and minced carrots, and are served with a tamarin chile dipping sauce. Shredded purple cabbage and carrots complete the presentation. Lip smacking good.
My mother and I would dream about what we’d do if we ever won the Lottery. She said she’d hire a chauffeur because she hated to drive. I said I’d hire a Thai chef because I could eat Thai food every day. So when Jeff recommended the Green Curry ($14), I had no choice but to follow his cue. The steaming hot bowl of coconut milk, carrots, red and green bell peppers, bamboo shoots, eggplant, green beans, basil and chicken is served with fluffy steamed white rice. The dish has a great depth of flavor and a mild heat. So delicious I was tempted to lick the plate, but I resisted the urge. I know when to keep it classy.
Monkey King serves lunch and dinner seven days a week and is open late on weekends. Stay tuned for future upgrades to Monkey King’s cocktail list and menu. Good things are coming. Eat this, hungry readers. You’ll be glad you did.
467 5th Ave.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
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