Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kam Meng Chinese Restaurant - taking a stab at food blogging

I remember a particular summer day years ago, when my friend Scott and I were on the tail end of playing tourist along the Bayfront, we discovered a little Chinese restaurant across the street from Apollo's Nightclub. It was a place that we had never been to before, but had always wanted to check out. We went inside, loved the quiet atmosphere and marveled at the view we had of Yaquina Bay...not to mention the fantastic food, beautiful artwork on the wall and the owner herself, a lovely woman by the name of Huiya Chen, who made it a point to come out, refill our water glasses and talking to us like we'd been regular customers for years. We adored her instantly.

Then we noticed there was a menu-sized laminated pamphlet on each of the tables. The headline on it read: "This story is about the owner of Kam Meng Chinese Restaurant: Huiya Chen ~ An Artist's Story" with a beautiful photo of Huiya and her husband at Yaquina Bridge State Park gazing at the ocean during a sunset. We took turns reading the pamphlet, and were amazed by what we read.

Click here to read "Huiya Chen ~ An Artist's Story" on the Kam Meng website.
Standing before us, talking, serving us what was frankly some of the best Chinese food we'd ever had in our lives...was someone who had dedicated her life to realizing her Dream and is succeeding at it. Escaping from a life of poverty in China, she nurtured her childhood love for music and painting. She balances her time between being a wife, mother, restaurant owner and artist, painting exquisite portraits of local ocean scenes and still life with colors vivid and true. She sells prints of her artwork as well as the original pieces. I've been saying for years that one day I will have a piece of her art hanging on my wall.

It was maybe a year or so after our first experience at Kam Meng that they moved a few miles away from their original location on the Bayfront and into a larger place in Agate Beach, just past the golf course. It is painted a bright yellow with a green roof and trim, very hard to miss while you're driving Hwy 101. There is a separate play area for children, filled with toys and a vintage piano. She always makes sure to use local seafood and fresh vegetables for her dishes, and keeps coming up with delightful new additions to the menu.

My last dining experience was a couple of weeks ago, after a particularly trying day at work. Rick had come to town for a temp job, neither of us felt like cooking so we decided to go to Kam Meng for dinner. We didn't realize it had been nearly a year since our last visit, but the place was exactly the same as though we'd never left. We were seated immediately in a booth, and their new server brought us each a cup of hot tea. Instantly, the stress of the day began to melt away. Huiya came right over to say hello, and we caught up on everything new in the restaurant...she'd installed video poker machines recently, and she explained that their buffet was no longer going because they were losing money due to the waste and food costs. She was sad that some of her customers stopped coming as often because of it, but her main focus was getting things back to the way they used to be. She's getting there, slowly but surely.

After much debate, we decided to go for one of our usuals...the family dinner. As our main dishes, Rick chose the House Special Lo Mein, while I opted for something new...the sizzling green onion oyster. Within a minute, my bowl of hot & sour soup (the best in town) arrived and just as quickly vanished. It was a short time later before the Bo Bo Tray arrived...their appetizer platter, with Mar Far chicken, egg roll, BBQ Pork, fried wontons and beef & chicken skewered on sticks, with a small cast-iron cauldron in the middle with a live fire inside and a grill top so we could roast our food over the flame for extra flavor. For the first time ever, we ate everything on the tray!

I wanted to take a look around at the artwork on the walls, as I'd noticed a couple of new pieces, but no sooner when I had stood up and left the table, that our main dishes arrived, mine on a literally sizzling plate and smelled WONDERFUL. The lo mein tasted even better than last time, and I fell in love with the oyster dish...a decent number of fresh oysters pan fried in delicious brown sauce with sliced ginger and green onions. I love oysters but usually hesitate on eating them in restaurants. They were cooked to perfection, and tasted like they'd just been fished out of the bay. The only leftovers we took home was the lo mein...the oysters were all resting comfortably in my belly. It was an excellent meal that didn't leave us broke.

I highly encourage everyone who visits the Oregon coast to be sure to go visit Huiya for lunch or dinner at Kam Meng. It is a classy, peaceful place where one may go dressed in their Sunday best, but if you're like me and go in still wearing your work uniform after a long shift, that's okay too. Sit down, have a cup of tea and relax. She'll take good care of you.

Kam Meng's official website! Click and love!