Tai Kee Won Ton (戴記扁食) in San Jose
Tai Kee Won Ton is a new Taiwanese restaurant that hails from the eastern Taiwan city of Hualien, near the tourist area of Taroko Gorge. The original shop in Hualien was supposedly famous for it’s “bian shi” or wonton soup. When this place opened a couple of months ago, I was excited at the prospect of another place nearby which served Taiwanese xiao chi (小吃 or small eats) such as won tons and noodles.
The place is located a few doors down from Ramen Halu near San Jose / Santa Clara border. It is a fairly large space, especially for a casual dining place. The interior are all new and has two flat panel TVs showing satellite TV shows from Taiwan.
First up was the wonton soup (餛飩湯) itself. There were exactly 10 wontons in a bowl with light soup. The soup is very important in a wonton soup since it is always a clear broth, so the flavor really has to stand out to be noticeable. However, the soup here lacked any sort of character nor the freshness of high quality chicken stock.
The wonton’s pork filling was not as tender as it should be. Even worse was that it lacked any real flavor. The bland taste of the wonton and the soup makes this an average bowl of wonton soup at best. Definitely not enough to carry the name of the restaurant on.
Next came the fried ribs noodle (排骨酥麵). This is a common noodle dish in Taiwan, with braised pork ribs coated in batter and deep fried to golden brown. The noodle here seems to be homemade and was cooked el dente.
Here, however, instead of fragrant fried ribs, the flavor is of oiliness and greasiness. Somehow they did not deep fry this properly. The meat on the ribs was also tough. The soup also tasted somehow like cleaning solution.
After two bad showings, finally the braised pork hock (滷豬腳) arrived. Fortunately, this was braised nicely and the flavor was good. The meat and the tendon were also tender. The only minus was that some hair were not cleaned thoroughly.
Last up was the Yan Su Ji (鹽酥雞) or Taiwanese popcorn chicken. This was also decent, and the major plus was that there were actually fried basil in it. Most of the places that serve this popular Taiwanese snack in America skip the fried basil, but it is one of the signature ingredients in the Taiwan version and gives that special flavor.
It’s hard to recommend Tai Kee Won Ton based on the showings here. Even its signature item, the wonton soup, was not up to par. Also it is pricey at $6 for 10 wontons. I think they’re following the price-point model of the Xiao Long Bao from Din Tai Fung. But it does not taste good enough to warrant that price.
Perhaps some of the non-wonton items may be worth exploring further. And it is a positive that another Taiwanese restaurant is open now in the south bay. But in order to survive with the high price levels, they have to improve their signature won ton soup and other noodle dishes, or else even the former Taiwanese president, Mr. Jiang Jing-Guo cannot save them.
Tai Kee Won Ton (戴記扁食)375 Saratoga Ave
Unit H & J
San Jose, CA 95129