A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Dim Sum: Peony Restaurant, Oakland
As my associate and I show up last, everyone at the table looks relieved not to have to do the writeup. The room is light, bright, and crowded, but strangely not too noisy. Reminds me of the late Lantern on Webster, where the noise was swallowed by an immense high ceiling; but the ceiling here is low.
The first cart that comes by looks like it's mostly desserts: cakes, tarts, custards. Gordon gleans off a couple plates of dumplings: kuo tieh sort of types with green-tinted wrappers, filled with spinach and chopped shrimp; and shiu mai containing chopped shrimp, leeks, and chives. The wrappers seem a little thicker and chewier than the paper-thin ones some folks like, but chewy's good for me.
Steamed har gow-style dumplings were filled with more shrimp, and topped with, apparently, pulverized salmon roe. There was deep-fried taro, stuffed with pork and mushrooms, and more ground pork and mushrooms in airy fried buns. A plate of baby back ribs looked as if they'd been heavily glazed; in fact, the meat itself was the dominant flavor. Another plate of cold, chewy, anise-flavored fish slices, provided the most forward flavor of the meal; would have been great with frozen vodka.
Up to the fish, most everything had been, not bland, but, well, mild in flavor. Melanie grabbed a servicng of fried milk, to cleanse our palates, and things started to get more interesting. Maybe my favorite dish came out: a ball of sung chow "raw fried" rice, with mushroom, Chinese sausage, maybe egg, in a smoky aromatic sauce. I got the idea that this was braised, starting with uncooked rice, and all the ingredients simmered together. Baked eggplant slices, stuffed with fish mousse, were drenched in a rich brown sauce; the eggplant maybe not as caramelized as I'd like, but fine in texture and taste.
A plate of steamed chow fun noodles topped with fatty pork was also a hit at my end of the table; the noodles really soaked up the pork flavor, and the bits of fatty pork were soft and tasty. Braised tofu wrappers stuffed with pork went around the table, and so did the shrimp crepes and the pork and green onion crepes. As the Trickster and I stood to depart, back to the mundane, our dining companions paused in their contemplation of the next course to urge me to hurry with the writeup.
I thought the carts could have been more numerous, or more frequent; and we saw a lot of the same items repeatedly. Nothing we got was bad; a lot of items seemed underseasoned, or maybe subtle is a better description. The company was good, the tea was good, the dishes fed the talk, dim sum till daylight.
Thanks to Alexandra for the organizing of it, and additions and corrections are welcome. All true facts are credited to my fellow diners; inaccuracies of course are mine.
2nd level of Pacific Renaissance Plaza
(Parking available in the building)