KEI (936 Queen West, at Shaw, 416-534-7449) Greasy spoon goes upmarket with pricey take on Asian street eats -- and fails spectacularly. Complete meals for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottle of domestic beer. Open Wednesday to Monday 7 pm to 2 am. Closed Tuesday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: N
it's a proven restaurant for-mula. Take a rundown greasy spoon, dress it up in tiki kitsch, throw together a vaguely Southeast Asian lineup of vegetarianish dishes and the obligatory martini menu, and watch the fashionistas flock.
Kei, the latest in a long line of Queen West it-spots, follows this recipe faithfully. Too bad the same effort hasn't been made in the kitchen as was put into selecting the light fixtures.
If Kei's prices -- $7 for pint-sized starters and $14 for mains that amount to not much more than veggies over rice -- were cut in half, it might make sitting on an uncomfortably hard bench listening to insufferable house remixes of Bob Marley hits barely tolerable.
Take three under-spiced, potato-stuffed samosas -- sorry, "curry puffs" -- that would cost a toonie in an Indian restaurant. Or four mushy shrimp-and-veg-stuffed wontons that would set you back the same two bucks in Chinatown. OK, they both come with a dull tamarind dip and a house-made mango-pineapple chutney that tastes like store-bought jam. How about a quartered cube of cold tofu -- make that "silken tofu" -- in a pool of tepid bean sauce? Seven bucks for that?!?
Like the aps, the entrees -- both of them -- are nice enough, but ludicrously over-priced. Nasi Dagang sees a banana-leaf bundle of unadorned yellow rice layered with what seems like canned tuna. Quan-Yin Curry finds more rice, only here it's topped with a boring entourage of tofu, lily shoots and Japanese eggplant.
The two are sided with a few strips of carrot omelette and some sour pickles. The sole dessert ($4.50) is simply appalling -- three soggy slices of battered banana in watery coconut milk.
Though it might have the formula, this Kei ain't the key to success.