Great Chinese food in Little Maghreb – Kim Jian

by Jason
Chinese food in St. Michel

What’s your Montreal restaurant red flag? Word of mouth? Could it be a dirty washroom? Google reviews of 3 stars or less? Restaurants “reviewed” by influencers with “DM for COLLAB” in their bios? It’s tough finding diamonds int he rough without going to experience a place for myself. I recently discovered my Montreal restaurant GREEN flag. Something that someone else might deem as a red flag is something I actually appreciate. I asked the waitress for suggestions and not only did she suggest their specialty items, but literally told me to AVOID certain dishes on their menu. This week’s hidden gem, I venture into Little Maghreb for some awesome Chinese food at Restaurant Kim Jian.

We looked through their menu that read like a holiday Sears catalogue that listed 236 items. The dishes listed were some I’ve never heard of or ever tried. I was intrigued and wanted it all. Since we were only two and wanted to narrow it down the their greatest hits, we asked the waitress for suggestions. The offerings ranged from Vietnamese dishes like pho and bun bo hue to Cantonese and Szechuan dishes.

The waitress pointed to the no-so-secret secret menu posted on the wall. Hand-written poster board dishes that if you didn’t look carefully, you’d miss them. We inquired about some of the dishes that piqued our interest but the waitress advised against it. She said that their specialties are mainly the Chinese dishes as the chef is from China but has worked for over 20 years in various Asian restaurants (explains the gamut of dishes on the menu). But he does have his own signature dishes (written on the wall).

Sautéed clams in red curry

We took the advice of the friendly waitress and followed her lead. We had the clams in curry sauce. An aromatic dish of red curry and sweet coconut milk laced with fresh lemon grass and chiffonade of kafir lime leaves, basil, bell peppers and onion. The littlenecks were fun to eat and the sauce was addictive.

coconut curry clams

Dishes like these make me question my table manners. When there is a sauce that’s so good, is it poor form to just drink it like a soup? Or is the move to order more rice? What would you do?

Beef lok lak

This dish is cubes of incredibly tender beef, sauteed with peppers, onion, garlic and fried taro glazed with a thick savoury sauce. The entrance of this dish was dramatic as it’s served on a screaming hot sizzling platter. Yes, we were that table that drew everyone’s attention in the restaurant. Luckily my anxiety was at a minimum since we were after the lunch rush and there were only two other tables occupied. Once the sauce stopped sizzling, all I wanted to do was to ladle the entire thing over rice.

Soft-shell crab fried rice

fried soft-shell crab and fried rice

I’ve never seen this dish before anywhere let alone ever eating it. A fried rice with egg, scallions, lettuce, sliced bok choy stalks, sauteed peppers, topped with cashews, massago fish roe and cilantro, buttressed with an overly generous amount of deep fried soft shell crab.

What normally would be served as its own dish in accompaniment to rice, the battered crab was lightly seasoned, which was great. The light handedness preserved the delicate taste of our favourite arthropod. It was light and crunchy and went well with the perfectly with the toothsome fried rice. The briny fish roe complimented the crab without making the rice fishy in flavour.

Going back to my green flag moment, it’s not like the waitress told us to completely steer clear of certain items, but knowing it was our first time here, she made suggestions that definitely highlighted the chef/owner’s specialities. This came from me asking about some of the Vietnamese dishes. She said the that the pho is good, but there are others in the neighbourhood that are better and it isn’t their specialty, but they still offer it.

I didn’t have to order 236 items to find the gems on the menu and I can’t wait to find the others. As a matter of fact, I just made plans to revisit with some people who’ve never been as I write this. See you there!

PS, Bring your own wine!

Restaurant Kim Jian
3270 Rue Jean-Talon E

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