Editor's note: This review of the about-to-close Kwan Court originally ran in The Wichita Eagle on Oct. 5, 1990. It was written by former restaurant critic Diane Lewis.
When Kwan Court opened this past summer, adding another option to Oriental- type eating places on Rock Road, some wags started calling it "Wok Road."
But Kwan Court is not just another Chinese restaurant.
The '70s Colorado-fern-bar look of Charlie Brown's and its predecessor The Hatch have been almost eliminated in extensive remodeling. A few exposed brick walls remain, but elsewhere the plank floors have been replaced by gray carpeting; the tabletops are light gray, and the chairs have a pickled white finish with the palest of seafoam green coverings.
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Peach, pink and rose accents are repeated in the carpeting, in napkins and in the individual dried floral arrangements on the tables. Translucent white shades have been hung at the floor-to-ceiling windows, re-creating the look of Japanese screens. The overall effect is somewhere between art deco and high tech calm, serene and totally appealing.
The bar that dominated a lounge area has been turned into a sushi bar. Sushi eaters can watch their orders being made while seated at the bar. At the north end of the sushi bar is a regular bar with some seating. The sunken lounge area and wood-burning fireplace are gone; only one dining area is on a different level.
Kwan Court's menu defies characterization. There are some dishes that are typically Chinese lo mein and beef broccoli. But others are Japanese sushi and tempura.
The menu is built around fresh seafood, especially Maine lobster, but it also includes steaks and chicken and Chinese entrees. Meats are prepared in various ways: in clay pots and on sizzling platters and charbroiled and served with a variety of sauces. There are also appetizers, soups, salads and quesadillas served with salsa, blending Oriental and Latin cuisines. How about nouvelle Asian?
An extremely helpful waiter guided us through our choices. We started our meals with two appetizers: yakitori chicken ($4.50) and Japan shrimp tempura ($4.50). The marinated breast of chicken was threaded on a skewer, grilled and topped with sesame seeds, and was served with luscious thick sweet sauce for dipping. The batter on the shrimp was light and tender, but we thought the mushroom and soy sauce for dipping was somewhat bland.
"Be sure to try the marinated ginger . . . to cleanse the palate," our waited admonished, pointing to a small, paper-thin, rose-colored garnish. We did. It was surprisingly pungent, but indeed refreshing.
An egg flower soup accompanied our meals. It was thick and filled with sweet red peppers and celery.
With a little guidance from the waiter, my companion ordered the sizzling chicken platter with prawn sauce ($8.25) chunks of chicken sauteed and topped with a golden red sauce and crisp broccoli. Initially the sauce seemed to be a typical sweet and sour sauce, but it had a zippy peppery aftertaste.
My lobster was one of the nightly specials ($16.95; usually, it's $19.95). Instead of the traditional butter and lemon, I had one of the five specialty sauces garlic combining oyster sauce and sesame oil with onion, green pepper, mushrooms and baby corn. The whole lobster was partially cut apart and the platter beautifully decorated with cucumber fans and lemon wedges.
The shell of the 1 1/4-pound lobster was covered with a splendid combination of spices, garlicky and peppery, which made picking at the pieces of the shell an especially delicious chore. The garlic sauce, which was served in a lidded pot, was subtle enough to go well with the lobster. The prawn sauce, while good with the lobster, overwhelmed it. Save the prawn sauce for chicken or shrimp or pork. For my money (and The Eagle's, for that matter), there's no reason to pay the price for lobster if you can't taste it.
In addition to steamed rice, our dinners also included a side dish of green beans, another departure from a typical Chinese dinner. But the most telling was the absence of a bottle of soy sauce and salt and pepper shakers on the table. (Neither salt nor soy sauce was needed on any of our food.)
Desserts, which we did not try, include watermelon (in season), fruit pies a la mode, and peaches and ice cream. Another departure, but interesting.
At lunch, the menu is shortened considerably. There are also several specials and a buffet that includes a modest salad bar and a half-dozen typical Chinese dishes. The day I stopped by, it included pork lo mein, fried rice, crab rangoon, egg rolls, sweet and sour chicken, garlic chicken, pepper steak, moo goo gai pan, and an unusual dinner roll that was a sweet, fried dough sprinkled with sugar.
Among the dishes I sampled, the standout was pork lo mein soft noodles with slivers of barbecued pork, onions, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables. Lunch prices range from $4.50 for the buffet to $12.95 for lobster salad.
Sushi is available at both lunch and dinner. Prices range from $2.50 to $7.25, with most at the lower end.
The bicoastal trend of fusion food combining cuisines and cooking techniques of various cultures is long overdue in Kansas. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Quan Diec and his brothers, Han and Andy, in this their fifth Kwan Wah (one is in Topeka), Wichita is on its way.
1443 N. Rock Road 634-1828
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays
Charges: American Express, Carte Blance, Diners, MasterCard, Visa accepted. No personal checks
Wheelchair access: One step up to entrance from parking. One dining area is two steps up Alcohol: Full bar
Children's meals: No
Cost: Average three-course dinner for two, no tax, tip or alcohol, $40