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Disappointing Christmas dinner at Chef's Wok [Alameda]

Ruth Lafler | Dec 26, 2013 12:58 PM

We learned to our dismay late Christmas afternoon that East Ocean -- our traditional Jewish Christmas Chinese dinner spot -- had decided not to stay open for Christmas dinner this year (I have a vague recollection that they said something last year about how they weren't going to do it again, but I guess I didn't take them seriously!).

So we decided to check out Chef's Wok just a block down Webster.

The meal turned out to be a good example of how service can completely change your impression of a meal. It was also a reminder of how exemplary the service is at East Ocean, even when every table is filled on a holiday.

We had to wait quite a while for our first dish to arrive, and when it did, it was the wrong dish (Peking duck instead of roast duck). So we sent it back and waited some more. The roast duck, when it finally did arrive, was delicious (and very meaty), and we fell on it with gusto. Then we waited a bit more, and the crab arrived. Also very good.

Meanwhile, however, our tea had turned to sludge (as it did throughout the meal: the first couple of cups would be fine, but as we got closer to the bottom it would be cloudy -- looking more like seaweed soup than tea -- and rather vegetal tasting), plus it was only a small pot for seven people, not really enough for one cup each.

The soup arrives and it's the wrong soup. Did we want it? No, we didn't, so back it went. We waited. Fortunately, we'd ordered lots of crab, but two members of our party are not crab fans, so they were still waiting for something to put on their plates. Pea leaf arrives -- wrong dish! I'd clearly ordered the pea leaves with garlic (said it twice, in fact, because I wasn't sure she'd heard me the first time), and they brought pea leaves with bamboo pith. At this point, I was willing to accept the wrong dish just to have food on the table. The pumpkin with salted egg yolk arrived and the moment it was put on the table it was clear that it had been hastily made -- either the oil wasn't hot enough or the didn't fry it long enough, but the coating was damp and mushy. Still, at this point we just want to eat and get out of there. Oh, and still no rice. The right soup finally shows up. It's actually pretty good, and we manage to flag down someone to bring us rice. Finally, the lamb claypot. This was just a mis-order, as no one liked it. It was actually pretty disgusting looking, although it tasted somewhat better than it looked.

More waiting to get the check, and then to process it.

So to recap: we ordered five dishes plus rice. Three of the five dishes were wrong, and one of the other two was badly prepared. The tea was awful. We had to beg for rice.

The three dishes that were good I thought were quite good. I'm willing to attribute the bad preparation of the pumpkin to the kitchen being slammed and I'm not going to ding them for the fact that we didn't like the lamb dish. So basically, I wouldn't write them off for food: if we had gotten the correct dishes in a timely manner we would have felt very differently about our meal (we probably would have re-ordered to replace the lamb dish). But clearly they couldn't handle the holiday crowd (I wonder if they got unexpected spillover from people who showed up at East Ocean not knowing it was closed) and their ineptitude really ruined dinner. None of us is willing to go back.

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