In any listing of Asian restaurants in the area, Private Kitchen would definitely be in the top handful. Until recently, I’d not been there. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go. It’s just that you have to plan ahead. No walk in traffic. Prospective diners must go on line in advance and select the items they want to eat.
Meet Chef Chen and Wife
So Robin and I decided to go next door to St. Louis Soup Dumplings. It’s owned by Chef Lawrence Chen and his wife, Emily, the same people who own the upscale Asian place. Soup Dumplings has its unique ways, too. The menu—well, there are no menus—is soup dumplings or soup dumplings. The choice comes in the varieties: pork, beef, crab.
As we approached the door of the dumpling shop, Robin passed by and continued on to Private Kitchen.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Let’s give PK a try,” she said, “I read that they’re now doing a limited number of walk ins”.
So in we went. It was just 5:30. They might not be feeding too many at that hour. Sure enough, of the five white-clothed tables, three were vacant. It took a bit of doing, but Robin convinced Emily, the owner/ hostess/server, to let us stay. But we’d have to take whatever was being served. No special orders. We agreed.
That evening we were on our way to a reading given by Bruce Olson from his two-volume history: That St. Louis Thing, An American Story of Roots, Rhythm and Race. We literally needed to eat and run.
We sat down at one of the nicely appointed tables, with its white, pristine tablecloth, pink napkins and ceramic chopstick holders. The chairs were dressed tastefully in a cover of white damask, that reached the floor. Nice touch.
Slurping Soup Dumplings
It wasn’t long before Emily re-appeared with two bamboo steamers of pork dumplings. They were identical to those served at their dumpling shop next door and just as delicious. Next came a bowl of asparagus, tender and fresh, and as good as any I’ve ever been served. A sample of Chen’s artistry could be seen in the Kung Pao Chicken and Kung Pao Beef dishes, that arrived on a marble platter with a bit of greenery and a tiny, decorative figurine.
Peking Duck, the Dish of Emperors
The Peking Duck at the table next to us fumed with fragrance. I recalled having the dish in Beijing in the 80s at a place called the Sick Duck, so named because it was near a hospital. The 600-years-old delicacy, the dish of emperors since the Ming Dynasty, is traditionally cut into 120 pieces and served with light pancakes, cucumbers, and sauces.
The ambiance, presentation, and service all compliment the superb dishes cooked to order by Chef Chen. As to the restaurant name, I think Private Chicken—like Sick Duck—has a campy sound that sets it apart.
This is not an attempt to give a full-blown narrative about the Olive Boulevard restaurant. We had just a taste. Next time I’ll book my meal on line a few days ahead.
Put this one on your list.
Private Kitchen. 8106 Olive Blvd., University City. Open: Mon. 11a-10p. Wed-Sun, 11a-10p. Menu & Reservations: Facebook: Private Kitchen.