by CJ Janovy
Kansas City’s never had a Chinatown neighborhood, but over the last century, there usually have been two or three Chinese groceries around the 150-year-old City Market. What’s been missing from Kansas City’s oldest neighborhood was a Chinese restaurant. Flash forward to right now – and a brand-new Bo Lings.
The metro’s sixth Bo Lings (inside the City Market structure at 20 East 5th Street) was originally scheduled to open on Chinese New Year, February 18. But Linda Rostenberg, the restaurant empire’s longtime publicist, has been telling people that one reason it took so long to open is that owners Richard and Teresa Ng were coping with construction delays “in a 150-year-old building.”
I love Linda, but she didn’t do her homework. The building is quite a bit younger than the last days of the Manchu Dynasty. Yes, there was an outdoor market venue in this neighborhood dating back to the 1850s, but construction started on the current City Market buildings in 1938, making them not quite 69 years old.
It’s probably a better story to say that the Ngs had to cope with 19th-century problems. In this case: antiquated sewers, slanting floors, completely gutting a space that had long been occupied by the seriously unglamorous Oriental Market, Inc., and installing a new ventilation system.
This Bo Lings, which opened Saturday, is seriously glam. Designer Ivy Lan created a cool, modern interior, turning thumbs down on some decorations that Richard Ng had brought back from China and instead choosing items that weren’t Asian at all (including Italian-made light fixtures that look like frozen teardrops). “Ivy has expensive tastes,” Richard says.
The stress of opening the newest Bo Lings took a toll on Richard Ng – he lost nearly 20 pounds – but he seemed relaxed enough on opening night, chuckling as Rostenberg strode up to customers sitting at some of the elevated tables and asked if they were downtown loft dwellers or visitors from the suburbs. “Fifty-fifty,” she told me when she returned to the table where I was sitting.
Always the efficient publicist, Rostenberg pointed out that this new venue is unlike all the previous Bo Lings restaurants. “For one thing, they offer dim sum every day.” Well, not the steel rolling carts used on Saturdays and Sundays at the Plaza location; at the City Market, customers can order from a limited dim sum selection on the menu. This new Bo Lings serves sushi, too – rolls only – along with greatest hits from the Bo Lings repertoire (General Tso’s chicken, orange-peel shrimp, Young Chow fried rice) and Malaysian lakso lemak, phad Thai and Hong Kong wonton noodle soup.
“This is the first Bo Lings to have a real bartender,” Rostenberg added, pointing to a handsome guy in an apron. “And meet the cute manager, Carma Willett,” she said, pulling over a stunning honey-blonde in a form-fitting black dress. “Look around this place,” Rostenberg said. "Even the customers are all young and beautiful.”
What did she expect them to be -- 150 years old? – Charles Ferruzza