Maybe the 5th time is the charm... Kim Son Cafe has opened in the Town Center location where, so far at least, restaurants have been 0 for 4 and unable to prosper. Each of the past tenants has offered a unique menu and Kim Son is no exception. Taco Milagro was the first to rise and fall, serving up a modern, Tex-Mex/fusion menu. La Mesa opened shortly thereafter, making some improvements to the Tex Mex menu and occasionally offering live music on the patio. They, too, fell, and shortly thereafter Chef John Tesar of Dallas and two partners opened Tesar's, offering upscale steaks and what was purported to be some of the best burgers ever to grace The Woodlands. However, despite good reviews, was rumored to be over-priced and couldn't seem to get any decent customer base going; forcing John to make the tough decision to leave the restaurant and return to Dallas in hopes of making a better living. Tesar's shuttered only a few short weeks later. Finally, restaurateur Marco Wiles opened Dolce Vita, an upscale pizzeria and his second in the Houston area.
But he quickly grew frustrated with clientele at his satellite location. He told the Houston Press customers were coming in and leaving as soon as they saw that he didn't have Bud Light on draft. They were demanding Ranch dressing for their pizza, and their kids were disappointed that there was no Skee-Ball. Actually all of them suffered from not having enough customers - and the base reason was likely due to food and or service that was not up to par.
Kung Pao Chicken
Our first visit some two weeks previous was initially not a good one, as 33% of our order was less than satisfying, and another third was a little on the bland side, but the final part was decidedly delicious. We had ordered the Kung Pao Chicken and the General Tso's Chicken, (our go-to dishes when we eat Asian). Surprisingly, the General Tso's was made primarily of dark meat, which had the unfortunate side-effect of giving the dish an almost gamey flavor, as though it had been made with duck. It was good, it just wasn't what we expected. We were very disappointed with the Kung Pao, though, as there was a decidedly fishy flavor to the dish. When we decided it was something we just couldn't eat, our server suggested the Triple combo - Chicken, Steak and Shrimp over Mama La's rice. Now that really hit the spot. In fact, we were so impressed with the Triple combo and that Mama La's rice - a rice made with sweet onions and bean sprouts - we decided right then and there we'd make another trip before we did the write up.
Second Time Around
Our second stop at Kim Son proved to be well worth the (albeit short) trip back. We requested our most excellent server, Jarrod, as we had come to respect his knowledge of the menu and rely on his ability to suggest the perfect plate and how to tailor it's preparation. And for the curious - Jarrod has no ties with Subway; or the jeweler.
Our dinner began with some Vietnamese Coffee. If you've never had it, especially if you're a coffee drinker but even if you're not, you don't know what you're missing. Vietnamese coffee also known as ca phe sua da or cà phê sữa đá (literally, iced brown coffee) is prepared one cup at a time at your table. A cup is provided with a measure of sweetened, condensed milk, and over another cup, a small French-style press is placed with coffee and chickory grounds steadily pressed beneath boiling water and slowly dripping into the cup below. Once the brewing is complete, you pour the coffee into the milk and stir, then enjoy it hot or over ice in a tall glass. Jarrod recommended we try a new (to us) dish, the Black Pepper Chicken. He advised, however, that we order it with "light" onions, as it is a very onion-heavy dish. We also ordered a cup of the Wonton soup, and having fallen in love with Mama La's rice last time, requested it be used for some chicken fried rice.
The wonton soup had a lovely, flavorful broth and was packed with several wonton noodles, and still more bits of pork. The serving was quite generous, as well, so much so in fact I opted not to finish it in order to leave room for the fried rice.
Won Ton Soup
Having learned my lesson in the past with MSG, I made sure to ask Jarrod to have the cooks leave it out of the chicken fried rice. Fortunately, it's not normally used in Mama La's rice, so there was no noticeable difference between the rice tonight and the rice from a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it would seem the chicken in the fried rice relies heavily on MSG, and not having it greatly reduced the flavorful-ness of the chicken. Still and all, the fantastic flavor of the rice, with it's caramelized sweet onions and wonderful mix of seasonings more than made up for the chicken. And again, the portion was absolutely huge! Not only was there enough for both of us to share, but a good portion was still left over to take home for a fabulous lunch the next day.
Vietnamese Black Pepper Chicken
Having no aversion to onions, I told Jarrod to just let them cook the Black Pepper Chicken the regular way. But he's been with Kim Son for several years now, so when he said, are you sure you really like onions? 'Cause I really think you'll like it better with light onions, I took his advice. Lo and behold, I was glad I did. Even modified, the dish was about 60% chicken, 40% onions. But it was 100% awesome. The chicken was steamed in the black pepper, still tender and juicy. The sauce, while of course oniony, was an excellent blend of black pepper and other seasonings, not overwhelming at all. It was all I could do to not shovel it all down; but again, the generous serving, along with some perfectly steamed broccoli, was enough to enjoy there as well as take a little home for later.
There are a lot of Asian restaurants in The Woodlands. Some aren't all that great, some are okay, and some are just plain fantastic. Kim Son Cafe definitely fits into that last category. We admit we wondered just what they were thinking when we found out they were moving into that cursed space - it seemingly had two strikes against it already; the "curse" as well as a half dozen other Asian restaurants within walking distance. But Kim Son's success down in Houston hasn't come from making bad decisions. And it's our hope that they really are as charmed as they would seem to be so far.
Kim Son also has a wonderful VIP Dining Club. If you join, you'll enjoy 20% off your next meal, a complimentary entree on your birthday, a $10 gift card on your anniversary, as well as other monthly specials (for example, for Thanksgiving we received an email for buy two meals, get a third free). Make sure you ask Jarrod for details. Or any other server, of course!
Think we got it wrong? Or did we hit the nail on the head? Let us know in the comments below. And remember, you don't have to take our word for it - give them a try for yourself and decide!
Kim Son Cafe
1701 Lake Robbins Dr
The Woodlands, TX 77380