Chow, Baby: Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Insult to Injury

Chow, Baby is well aware that it is easily offended, but tries not to let that rule its life. So at Kowloon (100 W. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington), the first affront — Chow, Baby was mulling the dozen appetizer selections when the waitress brightly suggested “Egg rolls?” — was met with a jaded eye-roll and a request for shrimp balls ($6.95) and jellyfish ($5.95), thank you very much. (Boy, Chow, Baby wished it knew how to say “Thank you very much” in Chinese.) Same thing for the soup: 15 selections, including exotica like shark’s fin and crab maw, but for the Anglos the waitress proposed ... wonton. Kowloon’s 16-page menu lists more than 300 dishes, including pork intestines, duck, squid, eel, frog legs, and a whole page of things that aren’t even translated into English. So Chow, Baby and the beloved were laying bets that the main-course recommendations would be beef and broccoli and sweet-and-sour pork. But before that could happen, the waitress delivered the ultimate insult: forks. Forks!

Hubris is a harsh mistress. Even though the chopsticks that Chow, Baby imperiously demanded had printed instructions on the wrapper (“1. Place stick between thumb and index finger ...”), Chow, Baby was not dexterous enough to deal with the slippery jellyfish. Shrimp balls were easily impaled, but the panko-crunch was the only good part of these tasteless globes. Speaking of taste, Kowloon has an interesting décor — it’s sort of a 1960s vision of what a Chinese restaurant should be, a big room with low ceilings, intricately carved woodwork, fake trees, and a mirrored disco ball. It’s like Kowloon thinks it’s the first Chinese restaurant in town and needs to break it to us gently, as with the Supreme Bean Curd Hot Pot ($8.95) that had very little bean curd but lots of ordinary chicken and pork, and a “sizzling” plate of Four Seafood Garlic Sauce ($9.95) that fizzled.

Chow, Baby would have written this place off except for the two little words we spotted at the door on our way out: dim sum. Now we’re talking! Dim sum is a Chinese brunch in which servers trundle carts of goodies around the restaurant; when a cart lady (they’re almost always women) stops at your table, she offers her wares and you nod at whatever looks good. There’s usually a soup cart, a dumplings cart, a steamed veggies cart, a meat cart, and so on. Servings are small and cheap (generally $2-$3 for several pieces on a plate), so you can try a bit of everything. The food is fresh-cooked and piping hot, especially if you snag a table right by the kitchen and catch the ladies on their way out. All the visual benefits of a buffet, but you don’t ever have to leave your chair. Usually, it’s one of the coolest dining experiences ever.

Kowloon starts dim sum at 10 a.m. on weekends. At 10:05 on a recent Sunday the place was packed with young Asian families devouring cartloads of thawed dumplings, meek steamed buns, and flavorless soups that all could have been microwaved from the frozen-food aisle of Hong Kong Market. And so Chow, Baby learned an important cultural lesson: Boring, bland, “family-friendly” brunches aren’t just an American construct. Kowloon is the Chinese Shoney’s, except if Shoney’s had chicken feet, it would offer them to everyone.

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