Generating its own vibrations and some Yelpy grumbling from patrons who expected a standard Chinese delivery experience, Kung Pao Kitty holds up a corner of the Hollywood Pacific Theatre building. The inside is all red and brown and wood and sexy, dotted with reedy-textured tables and lizard print seats. KCRW plays overhead, or maybe some slick bossa nova. There are two tables out on the sidewalk if you'd like the exposure to the traffic and uniquely skewed culture of Hollywood Boulevard just west of Cahuenga, and more tables along Wilcox that feel lonely until nighttime hits.
There is a bar dominating one wall, and a selection of three-dollar brews, like Chimay, Yanjing and Corona. Start on that while you eye the ring-around-the-rosey quartet of sharp condiments: soy sauce, sriracha, red chili paste, and a vindictive-looking hot chili oil. All have treacherously balanced lids and spoons, and you should take care not to rub your eyes after inspecting them.
The kitchen is not meant to be straight out of Chengdu, certainly not with a name like Kung Pao Kitty and the retro sex-goddess Orientalist sing-song girls depicted on the menu. It's more like a kung fu movie set with a deconstructionist attitude and a surprisingly subtle hand.
The Fried Tofu with Black Scallion Mushroom Sauce is a fun starter for friends. The tofu is crisp and cratered on its bed of lettuce leaf, accompanied by a gritty little sauce that colors the tofu more than flavors it. The cubes disappear as our beers do.
This is an even more fun starter for friends, especially if it's currently 1973 and a snarling gang from the rival martial arts school has just rushed around the corner brandishing weapons. You need the 70's Style Egg Rolls to fend them off; the outside skin is fried to crackly doom, the interior is doughy and chewy and tasty. Ground pork is here, and not much else. The addition of a chutney-like plum sauce makes your kung fu superior enough to avenge the death of your teacher.
The Mushroom Pork is colorfully saturated, with thin sheets of softened carrot, bamboo shoots, and prodigious snow peas cut into hollow squares. The ruddy pork is tender and robust, the mushrooms lending their earthy, tongue-coating flavor, and I highly dig this brown sauce that ties it together. A calm hill of brown rice soaks up some, but not enough.
The Szechwan Fire Fish is firm and tasty with strings of black mushroom, green onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. They may ask you if you want it mild, medium or spicy, but if you're ordering something that includes "Szechwan" and "fire" in its title, it would be ridiculous not to get it spicy.
The result is tossed in an amber-colored sauce that will cause some hiccups and snifflage if it is allowed to congregate and make its evil plans, but it is otherwise nonthreatening and nothing a beer can't defuse.
The Tofu in Lobster sauce is sunny and rich, with more of the sliced snow peas, gentle mushrooms and water chestnuts. The lobster sauce is balanced and silky, not slimy or skeevy as lobster sauce can be. It flavors the brown rice with a sweetish tinge.
They deliver if you're nearby, and as I mentioned, Kung Pao Kitty gets its share of complaint, usually when ordering orange chicken over the phone. We don't think that's the point. With a place that's open until midnight on weekdays and two on Fridays and Saturdays, you should be there soaking up L.A. culture as much as taste. Besides... lunch specials! About eight bucks, and they come with a kitschy little mixed salad.
There's a couple of parking lots in back that will allow validation.
This is one of the reasons Dining in L.A. can get so difficult to keep running... places like this close down. Kung Pao Kitty closed just shy of 2011 due to the economy, parking, and other issues. They'd helped to turn a seedy little corner of Hollywood into a den of cool. Hopefully they will reopen in another place.
Where the hell am I supposed to get my very-bad-for-me badass egg rolls?!
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Hollywood, Late Night/24 Hours )
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