Ian Pike noon, Dec. 8
The original Kip's was out in El Cajon, and had been there for fifty years before it closed down and the relocated to the current location in the heart of Hillcrest on 4th Avenue. It looks like a miniature little hole in the wall from the outside, with all of two patio seats and an awing illuminated by Christmas lights.
It turns out the restaurant stretches way back into the building, far enough that I had a hard time seeing the end of dining room. It's almost like the place is one, long hallway with tables on either end. There's a little bar right at the front, where I sat myself at the urging of the delivery guy who happened to be cruising by on his way out the door with some take-out destined for parts unknown (to me at least).
Server headquarters seemed to be at the back of the restaurant, and it took a suspiciously long time for the single visible employee to come up and offer me a drink. With the beer options being severely limited (Bud, Bud Light, Widmers, etc.), I opted out of beer. The wine list was a stark contrast to the beer selection. It had a bunch of bottles in the $20-$40 range--and one Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon sticking out like a sore thumb at $140! When push comes to shove, Kip's wine list exceeds it's tap list by a wide margin.
Kip's was originally a Chinese restaurant, though the menu expanded to Japanese food and sushi in the 90's. I decided to stick with the Chinese portion of the menu, if for no other reason than that I eat sushi regularly and Chinese food seldom. I started my meal with an appetizer of garlic chili frog's legs ($5.95) because they had been singled out on the menu as "recommended." I say it takes some stones to put stock in an uncommon dish, which I think can be the height of elegance when properly executed.
The server warned me that the legs would take a while, so I waited. When they arrived, I was delighted by the light batter that covered the little drumsticks. Somehow, I expected sauteed frog, but the deep-fried option proved to be delicate and flavorful. The spicy mixture of fresh garlic, chili peppers, and scallions that accompanied the four, diminutive legs was both unburnt (a rarity in terms of sauteed garlic) and very complimentary.
I followed the frog's legs with an order of twice cooked pork ($9.95) that included a side of rice. While not as much of a standout as the appetizer, the pork was generously sized consider its sub-$10 price. I found the flavor to be on the sweeter side and not as spicy as expected. There was a strong taste of liquid smoke in the mix as well. Having lots of baby corn and water chestnuts incorporated into the dish was a plus and the pork, which had been sliced a bit thinly, hadn't been overcooked to the point of toughness.
Kip's menu is huge in scale; the Chinese portion alone covers an oversize piece of cardstock in tiny print. The Japanese menu, which I didn't have a chance to sample, is of equal stature. It's cooler than it looks once you get inside and the surprisingly promising wine list begs a little exploration.
3925 Fourth Avenue
Tu-Th, Sun 11-10