Williamsburg is getting a new Chinese restaurant tonight, but don’t expect to see empty tubs of MSG behind Kings County Imperial. Instead there’s an acre-sized garden from which the owners plan to pull heirloom vegetables, Chinese red mustard, and Szechuan peppercorns.
“Chinese technique is among the most sophisticated in the world,” said co-cowner Josh Grinker, also founder of Stone Park Café in Park Slope. “It also happens to create some of the most bold and dynamic flavors.”
Instead of the usual Cantonese, Grinker references the rich seasoning and developed flavor of central China. He and his partner, Tracy Jane Young, were both trained in traditional Chinese cooking at a restaurant in New England and have traveled numerous times throughout China advancing their skills. The idea for Kings County Imperial has been simmering between them since 1997, and a brief glance at the dishes, which are served family-style, suggests it was well worth the almost 20-year wait.
“We want to take all of the best things of those Chinese restaurants and bring them into one place,” said Grinker when describing local Chinese restaurants, many of which he feels have too many options. “We have really good, full-flavored and complimentary dishes. It’s not an overwhelming, unnavigable situation.”
As you can see from the menu below, small samplings include items such as wok-seared long dumplings that are filled with pork, garlic stems and red vinegar, or prawn fries with Chinese ketchup. Larger plates include a dry fry that alternates daily with whatever is freshest at the market (blowfish tails, shrimp, beef rib, squid and tofu). More of a noodle person? They’ve got dishes like clay pot silver noodles with choi sum, pom pom mushrooms and beef, or “Ants Climbing a Tree,” which is stir-fried bean thread noodles with pork and tree ear mushrooms.
Naturally, the bar at Kings County Imperial has draft beers — and it also has soy sauce on tap. The soy sauce is an original recipe and comes from the owners’ sister company, Kings County Soy Works. Grinker and Young visited China last August to organize with the fourth generation family of soy sauce makers who produce it.
“There are only two families in all of China who are making soy sauce that way,” said Grinker. “We’re using our recipes, their facility and old world technique to make something really interesting.”
If drinks like the King Kamehameha Club and the Imperial Mai-Tai don’t make you feel like royalty, the setting just might. “The guy who designed the restaurant [Ian McPheely] became obsessed with the project,” said Grinker about his 65-seat restaurant. “He wanted to do something here that was totally different — no exposed brick or subway tiles. To me it’s like an old opium den, but a comfortable one.”
Kings County Imperial, 20 Skillman Avenue, Willliamsburg (bet. Meeker and Lorimer), 718-610-2000; open from 6 pm to 11 pm Sunday through Thursday, and from 6 pm to 1 am Friday and Saturday.