Fans of Kim's Dragon Restaurant on West Housatonic Street were quite upset when the place closed a year ago after an oil tanker and dump truck collided in front of the restaurant, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the parking lot.
Legal battles and the subsequent poor health of the owner's wife (the sole chef), left everyone guessing as to whether it would ever reopen.
Happily, it has. Huy Van Huynh, son of the eponymous Kim, has taken over the helm and is now, literally, chief cook and bottle washer.
He refers to himself as just a puppet and a slave to his mother's recipes, but is really is more than that.
"My mom tells me what to do and I do it," he says. "I can't argue with the old school. And she's getting old now, about 62!"
While his father, Kim van Huynh, is off enjoying the warmer climes of Florida, his mother has remained here and, when feeling well enough, still helps in the kitchen.
When asked if he misses his father, Huy replies, "Everything but his yelling."
Preparing Vietnamese food is very labor-intensive. Slicing, dicing and chopping are integral to the cuisine.
One of the favorite items on the menu (so far, there is only a blackboard listing dinner choices) are the spring rolls. Julienned carrots, mushrooms, jicama, root vegetables and pork are rolled into a rice flour shell that must be dipped first in hot water to make it pliable, then stuffed, then rolled and finally fried in soybean oil.
Huy has spent many hours, often until 4 a.m., rolling spring rolls in preparation for the next day's orders. The effort is worth it.
The oversized rolls are crunchy without being greasy and after dipping them in a fish sauce made from water, sugar, lime juice, chiles and garlic called nuoc nam, they have a lingering salty and pungent flavor. Huy calls nuoc nam, "the ketchup of Vietnam."
Large portions are pro forma here. A Pan-Asian selection on the blackboard menu offers everything from wonton soup, a Chinese specialty, to pad Thai, one of Thailand's most popular dishes.
The latter, served with either shrimp or large chunks of chicken and sprinkled with ground, roasted peanuts could easily be shared.
On second thought, don't share. Reheated pad Thai makes for a great lunch or dinner the next day if you don't mind having the same meal twice in a row.
Shaken beef, a Vietnamese specialty; chicken with lemon grass; and Asian curry are the dishes of choice for most diners as well as the pad Thai and, of course, the spring rolls.
The chicken and lemon grass was excellent. Tender pieces of white meat chicken were delicately seasoned with the fresh vibrant flavor of lemon and a hint of ginger.
For the Shaken beef, 10 ounces of New York strip steak is marked (set on a hot grill to score), cut in cubes and then sautéed with onions, garlic and soy.
Sometimes you get a tough piece of meat, as one of my dining partners did on one occasion. But the ingredients are all to my liking and I would try Shaken beef again on another visit although I prefer some of the non-meat choices.
A new addition to Huy's repertoire is the grilled duck with a sweet chile marinade, plum sauce, garlic and scallions.
The duck is grilled, then scored and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil. Successfully blending the sweet and the sharp, it was delicious.
Loyal clients of the "old Kim's" are still waiting for their Vietnamese pancake either vegetarian or with pork or shrimp. But this is still a trial period. Huy is new in the kitchen and he wants to see what works and what doesn't. He will probably add some "specials" later on in the year, he said.
In this eatery's previous incarnation, Huy spent most of his time out front dealing with customers.
"Too much yelling," he complained. "They yell if their food is slow in coming. Then they're happy again when they get served."
"It takes time to prepare food," he continued. "It can't always come out quickly. But they almost always come back.
"Anyway," he concluded while smiling and pouring me another cup of jasmine tea, "I prefer being in the kitchen."
Desserts are the not a strong suit here. Huy hasn't paid much attention to that end of the menu yet. Lychee nuts and a coconut juice are the options.
"Most people are just too full after dining for a large dessert," he said.
Personally, I never knew that eating dessert required the motivation of hunger. A scoop of chocolate ice cream need only to be placed on the table, with a couple of spoons if you're in a sharing mood, to disappear.
Kim's Dragon Restaurant has always been popular and in the few weeks it's been open again, little seems to have changed.
"Why change things when they work?" Huy said about the menu as well as the decorating.
While I was there, a woman came running breathlessly into the restaurant, wanting to know if it was open for take-out. (It was not).
She was on her way to Florida, she explained, and this was her last chance to eat there.
"This is the highlight of being here in the Berkshires. I love this place," she said.
There's a certain caché about this little eatery on West Housatonic. It's not haute cuisine, but it's good, honest, cooking and when the service is good, as it was on the two occasions that I was there, the experience is a very pleasant one.
- Restaurant Review
Kim's Dragon Restaurant, 1231 W. Housatonic St., Pittsfield. Tel. (413) 236-0998.
Style: Mostly Vietnamese.
Hours: 4 to 10, Monday - Thursday; 4 to 11. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95; soup, $3.95; entrees, $12.95 to $15.95; desserts, $2 to $3.
Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard.
Noise level: Quiet to moderate.
Handicap accessible: Yes.
Specials: Take-out available.