When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Henry's Private Kitchen Location: 1440 South Country Club Dr., Mesa Open: About two weeks Eats: Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese Price: $10 and up per person
Since last August, chef and restauranteur Henry Ku has been bringing Taiwanese and Asian cuisine to Tempe at Henry's Taiwan Kitchen, a mini-chain of restaurants he started in Seattle. At Henry's Taiwan the chef delivers accessible and affordable food inspired by traditional Taiwanese, Chinese, European cuisines. By comparison, Henry's Private Kitchen is meant to be a sort of "flagship store" with a far larger menu and more upscale design, according to Ku's friend and business partner, Richard Kuo. The restaurant opened quietly in Mesa about two weeks ago.
Located in the corner of an otherwise uninspiring strip mall, Henry's Private Kitchen doesn't look like much from the outside. But upon entering you'll find a medium-sized dining room filled with large round tables, each fitted with a tabletop lazy susan. The booths, which run along two of the walls, feature comfortable cushions, canopy coverings, and curtain partitions to provide plenty of privacy. Sure, it's no Sam Fox-ified design, but it's more than you'll find at many off-the-beaten path joints.
Our servers -- a young man and woman who both struggled with providing English translations -- weren't the most attentive we've had but made up for it with sincerity. They presented us with a two page menu, complete with Chinese and English translations.
The menu offered options like Taiwanese Bamboo Salad ($9.95), Three Cup Pork Feet ($12.95), Taiwanese Tofu ($9.95), and Signature Taiwanese Sausage Rice ($8.95.) -- but also dishes such as Pineapple Shrimp ($16.95) and Tomato and Scrambled Eggs ($8.95). Enticed by something nearby that didn't appear to be on our menu, we asked our server about a giant, bubbling bowl of what looked like soup at another party's table and were told that dish, and many others, are only available on the much longer Chinese-only menu.
Which would have been fine with us, except we don't read Chinese -- and none of the servers were able to translate.
We went ahead and ordered the enticing-looking dish, which turned out to be a hot pot of lamb and cabbage. The vinegary broth played well with the cabbage and thinly sliced lamb. It was heavy with chewy, clear noodles (similar to cellophane noodles but much thicker), carrots, shrimp, and sliced mushroom.
We followed it up with an order of stinky tofu, a Taiwanese speciality. For first timers Henry's version is a good place to start; it's stinky for sure, but only mildly so. The flavor is sulfuric, the gustatory rendition of the scent of an active volcano, rotten eggs, or garbage. But in a good way -- for some. At Henry's Private Kitchen it comes deep-fried and topped with kimchee that's saucier and less spicy than traditional Korean style.
The best item, or at least the one with the widest appeal at our table, was a dish of kimchee pork belly. (We ordered the Korean Kimchee Fried Rice, but were given this instead. Oh, well.) The tender slices of pork belly were salty and made for a great vehicle to appreciate the sour pickled vegetables. Combine the tangy, sauce covered pork with a stone bowl of rice and you've got an easy to enjoy meal.
Finally, we tried the "Hakkas" Omelet, available on the English menu. The fried egg pancake featured diced vegetables including scallions and radish. It was fine, but we chose instead to fill up on more interesting items on the table.
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We're confident there's much more to be discovered at this new restaurant, provided you're prepared to explore both the Chinese and American menus. We wish the servers would have been more confident in making dining suggestions, but appreciated their willingness to try to work about the language barrier. Next time, we'll be bringing a Chinese-literate friend.
Henry's Private Kitchen 1440 S. Country Club Drive #10, Mesa 480-833-1888
Mon. thru Thurs.: 5 p.m. to midnight Sat.: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sun.: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.