It’s M’s last week here before she moves home to Italy, and I thought that July 4th would be a great time to show her what America was all about. So off we went to Chinatown in Oakland—the city that never sleeps on holidays. I wanted to run some errands but it turns out the optometrist does sleep, so we went straight to the food.
Being unfamiliar with the restaurants and unsure of what to eat, we decided to go to the most crowded restaurant we came across. This place left its competitors in the dust.
3 o’clock and we still had to wait ten minutes. The waitresses were brusque but efficient, like a grouchy, well-oiled machine. They made no eye contact and literally threw our utensils on the table. Our water glasses weren’t once refilled. Even though I don’t understand Cantonese, I felt right at home.
Order food from one of several menus, with hella entrees that range from $3-6. I have complete faith that anything you order will come fast and fresh.
Our Sichuan style eggplant (5) came with rice and the soup of the day. Okay, I have very little experience with Cantonese style food, but my impressions are that it is meat-heavy, creamier and sweeter than Mainland cuisine. This strange soup was made from a strong meat broth and milk. (Let’s all hope that’s why it was opaque.) And MSG, the seasoning of the gods.
The eggplant came with strips of bamboo, wood ear, onion and pork. I have a Sichuan grandmother and this was one of my favorite dishes as a kid so believe you me, I know eggplant and this wasn’t Sichuan style. Cantonese style--mild and sweet--yes.
I’m always a fan of rice noodles with sauce (3) for dim sum, and M was intrigued. I’d never seen it served like this, with thick beany sauce on one side and sesame on the other. Again, it was super sweet but absolutely divine with lashings of hot chili oil. This is what all comfort food strives to be.
Going back tomorrow to get my eyeglasses. No question what I’ll be having for lunch!
Oriental Restaurant. I am not okay with this name, and it might cost them my patronage. I understand that it’s not sure what it wants to be – it has both Vietnamese and Chinese dishes – but it could’ve been a lot more creative so people would know it actually existed. A and I sat in there for what felt like two hours, and five people max came in during that whole time. Speaking of which, I hadn’t seen A in forever but in some ways we are really two peas in a pod though neither of us are terribly good at keeping in touch so the amount of love we have for each other and amount of time spent is directly inverse. this will change, i’m sure. we both graduated a year early and are approaching vegan (and share an enthusiasm for beards) so many a dining plans are in the future.
The first thing we noticed was that it smelled really good inside, not like old grease like some asian places. the second thing was the insanely low prices. Being Chinese and eating enough of that food to supply a small aircraft carrier when i was young, I almost never opt for the Chinese place. Which means I have only had a stir-fry or the like less than ten times in the past four years. All of a sudden, it tastes alright again! And the price was more than right.
A and I split an appetizer of tofu spring rolls (3) that were exactly the same as everywhere else. The peanut sauce is too sweet for me so I add soy sauce and sriracha. I'm not sure why I always think it's a good idea to get this appetizer. I suppose it sounds refreshing, but it's just boring. The spring rolls here didn't have basil or cilantro, which would've helped impart some semblance of flavor, and the fried tofu very tough. i like things fresh fyi
A got this tofu and veggie chow fun (5), which she said was good enough. Good enough is generally all I ask of these little dives. Many other Chinese restaurants here give out huge portions enough for two meals but this place is less generous. I'm not going to dock them points for that though.
My veggie plate (4.5) was a mixture of all the cheap vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, onions, and carrots in a garlic sauce (there were around 6 to choose from) over white rice. I wish they had the option of brown rice, and also more interesting sauces. It tasted very uninspiring but since I've eaten toast for dinner for the last week, it was satisfying enough. i did really appreciate that it's light on the oil. took me back to the days I ate this kind of stuff in a tiny grimy place in Columbus called China No. 1 like, every weekend. For 3 dollars you could get a huge stir fry over rice, eggroll, and soup. Just thinking about it makes me sick of bad Chinese food again.
Oriental Restaurant is certainly nice for the value but with so many other Asian places with awesome food and a better vegan selection for just a buck or two more, I won’t be going there again soon.