Chinese food done right
I went to China in 1989, which seems like yesterday but time keeps flying. One of the people on the tour asked our guide where the best Chinese food was, and we got the answer “San Francisco”. I think that may still be true.
Last night we went to dinner at East Ocean, in Alameda, and had a meal as good as anything I ever had in Asia.
East Ocean is an enormous establishment on Webster street. There is a vast sea of tables, from tiny 2-tops to classic round banquet tables for 8, 10 and 12 topped with lazy susans to facilitate sharing the meal family style. All of the tables have white tablecloths and napkins, western silverware is available on request, the waitstaff are dressed formally. East Ocean is a class joint, and obviously host to many parties and celebrations.
We were there for dinner, but they are apparently justly famous for excellent Dim Sum at lunch. That’s where they bring cart through the dining room loaded with a huge variety of dishes and you just pick what you want. At the end of the meal they count the plates and figure your bill. It’s a fun experience and you get a wide choice of dishes to try.
Back to dinner. We began with an appetizer of lettuce cups, which are sort of the Chinese version of the chicken taco with a lettuce leaf filling in for the tortilla. Tiny bits of chicken, green onion, garlic and other non-descript good things are all stir-fried together, then served in a leaf that you roll up as best you can and try not to make too big a mess.
There are items that you just don’t ever see on a menu in an American restaurant. These are pea sprouts, cooked in garlic.
The taste is pretty much like spinach, but milder. They are much more tender than today’s vegetable of high fashion, kale. Pea sprouts make a very interesting change from more common veggies.
My favorite dish of the evening was the sirloin steak cubes with Chinese greens:
This dish was very sweet, with just a hint of tang from the green onions. The cubes of steak were quite tender and moist, not overcooked at all. I don’t eat a lot of beef these days, and this was a rare treat.
There was a plate of barbecue pork chow fun, which is noodles and slices of meat. You can order this dish “wet” or “dry”, depending on how much sauce you like. The dry version still had plenty, I think the wet version would be too soupy.
Two abalone dishes were a high spot on the menu; abalone and Chinese greens both with and without sea cucumber. We took an order (without the sea cucumber, which just sounds yucky) home to have for dinner tonight, and it was fabulous. The dark brown gravy makes it look unlike any abalone you’ve ever seen, but the taste is wonderful and it reheated without getting tough. Now that there is a consistent supply of farmed abalone from Santa Cruz it is becoming more common to see it on menus, but it remains quite expensive.
East Ocean is a very good Chinese restaurant whether you have a party of 2 or 12. Service is quick, the food is very good and the prices (except for abalone) are pretty reasonable. I think we have to go back to try the dim sum, too.