Reviews: Kong

Bistro 7’s French-focused chef cooks Chinese at No Libs’ Kong

Heavy reliance on prefab ingredients also makes Kong feel like a halfhearted effort. The dumpling dough, so rough-hewn and thick as to muffle the tasty filling, is brought in from a New York City purveyor. Some noodles are made in-house, like the dense fettuccini-like strands found in the lamb noodle bowl, but others, like the pasty udon in the dan dan noodles, are bought. The lap cheong, a Chinese sausage that’s part of the stir-fried egg dim sum, comes from Chinatown. This approach runs counter to what we expect from a chef who is making his own charcuterie at Bistro 7. Restaurants need not make every little thing from scratch, but premade elements should be selected with discrimination.

Without a tool kit of Chinese cooking techniques, O’Halloran substitutes his French sensibilities. For example, he says that practically every dish at Kong begins with a mirepoix, sautéed aromatic vegetables. “That’s completely foreign to Chinese cooking,” admits the chef. A French-stew smell wafts from the braised lamb noodle bowl, but there’s little in the way of Chinese flavors. The chicken wings are slow-poached in oil, confit-style, another essentially French method. The best dish I sampled, a coconut rice pudding, is more or less plucked from the Bistro 7 menu. It’s a dish O’Halloran knows, and the taste of his confidence and experience here is unmistakable.

Kong lives in the old Sovalo space, now sporting a graffiti-tagged concrete wall to invoke the gritty outdoor eating environment of O’Halloran’s inspiration. The stylish restaurant seems at home on this hip stretch of North 2nd Street. O’Halloran says he wanted to create a restaurant that fits the neighborhood’s personality: comfortably between the fluorescent-lit grime of Chinatown and the elegance of now-shuttered Susanna Foo. His instincts about that are right; the city would eat up such a restaurant. But only if the flavors are as good as the chef’s intentions.

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  • Geoffrey

    I hope that O’Halloran takes these and other similar comments to heart and makes Kong into what we all assumed was going to open in NoLibs.

  • whatever

    The reviewer should write about what she knows … obviously, not Chinese cuisine.

  • moey

    The writer’s critique of Kong is as if he didn’t really eat there. I was there and shared several dishes with my party, and I honestly can say NOTHING disappointed. Everyone at our large party agreed. I hope people don’t take this review seriously and give Kong the chance it deserves- O’Halloran simply can not create a bad meal. I’ve eaten his food long before Bistro when he was cooking around Philly, and he’s always been extremely talented. TRY THIS PLACE OUT!

  • Big Dee

    I think the reviewer has made some incorrect assumptions about what Kong is and is menat to be and has allowed those assumptions to lead her to write a review that is both uninformed and inaccurate. I was totally satisfied with the food and the entire dining experience during my recent visit there.

  • D

    I am amazed at how narrow-minded you are in this review! Should an English chef stick to his/her natve cuisine of fish and chips or meat pies? You give the impression that a primary reason this concept doesn’t work is due to Mr. O’Halloran’s ethnicity. Shame on you! My wife and I have been to O’Halloran’s restaurants over the years and have been thoroughly impressed on every visit. Realize that we live in a global society and a chef of Irish heritage has the ability to master the art of Asian cuisine – and, O’Halloran has done this at Kong.

  • Sean

    Is the reviewer certain she was at the right restaurant? Our party sampled many of the same items, and there were zero misses. We especially liked the rice bowls – very unique and well executed. The service was great and the beer selection had something for everyone. Maybe the reviewer should give this place another try? I know we’ll be going back.

  • Lisa

    We have loved every meal at Kong — and there have been several. Other comments are correct – O’Halloran is branching out and the reviewer completely missed the fact that this restaurant is different with a different style. Less fancy and sophisticated than B7, which is a nice change of pace. FUN and FABULOUS! Don’t miss a great restaurant because of a narrow-minded review!

  • jeff

    I’m actually sorry to say that this review is right on the mark. I SO much wanted to like this restaurant, but most everything we had was ill-conceived or poorly executed or both. Most things were dripping with hoisin sauce for no apparent reason. The buns, as mentioned, were dry. Our (dry, pasty) noodle dish was made with gummy fettuccine. Why? A dish billed as long beans featured green beans. The lamb “dumplings” were actually fried wontons, and dull-tasting at that. Does the kitchen just think we don’t know the difference or don’t care? Do they? It just seemed like a kitchen using vague Chinese flavors in careless preparations. Hard to believe that the chef, or the chef’s mother-in-law, thinks these dishes are representative of Hong Kong street food.

  • Mallory

    This review is spot on. KONG is hugely disappointing considering O’Halloran is involved. Or is he? Michael and Sophia seem to be distracted by becoming part of the Philly restaurant scene and it shows very clearly in the execution of this place. I’ve given it two tries and there are far supieror spots in Chinatown. Most of the positive posts here are by the ambiguous “Anonymous”. Makes you wonder.