Friday night saw a cheerful group of 'hounds gather at East Ocean City in Chinatown for dinner, assisting in important research for my friend's wedding banquet plans. By good stroke of fate, there were eight of us in all, just enough to order from the banquet menu. As we waited for everyone to gather and for Ben and Limster to decipher the banquet menus (thank you, guys!), there was time to drink tea and sample the small bowls of pickled cabbage salad. In the end it was decided to try the modestly priced seafood banquet, roughly $25 or so a person.
First out was a plate of small prawns, steamed whole in their shells, served with a soy-ginger dipping sauce. They ranged from small to tiny, but were fresh and tasty, without any suspiciously soft or discolored ones. Piles of shells built up on our plates. Next came a pot of mixed seafood soup -- squid, shrimp, and scallops, in a thick dark broth, just sweet and salty enough. This was a favorite of several at the table and the waiter had no trouble finding takers for the last scoops.
The third dish was the ubiquitous lobster with scallions and ginger that I've seen on almost every banquet menu. Ben thought that Ocean Wealth across the street did a better job, Jan(?) felt it was too gloopy from cornstarch and overall the meat was considered undercooked. It was not terrible, but it could have been better. A flurry of dishes came next -- scallops and squid in XO sauce served in a taro basket, abalone slices with bok choy hearts, and scallops with black bean sauce. The scallops and squid where nicely seasoned, although there were a few pieces of shoe leather squid near the bottom. The taro basket was inedible. The abalone (dried abalone soaked and cooked) was slightly chewy and sweet, ringed by bok choy, and eaten to every last bit. The scallops in black beans were good but there was barely enough to go around a table of 8. The parade of dishes concluded with crab and egg over pea shoots and a whole steamed soy-sauced fish. The crab was not quite velvet -- there were some noticeable lumps, but the juice combined with the pea shoots made a nice broth. The fish was by far hailed as the success of the night. A sea bass, it was pulled apart by the waiter on serving. Perfectly tender, the meat was almost undercooked but not and nicely balanced by the soy sauce. It was picked clean right down to its bones. Even my fish-suspicious wife swore it was wonderful.
After the waiter determined we wanted the Chinese dessert, he came back with hot bowls of tapioca and corn soup. It was sweet but with a strong flavor of fresh corn (and provoked a profound nostalgia in several of us for summer corn picked fresh from the field).
The service was attentive and friendly, moreso than many other places, providing frequent changes of plates and moving the remains of larger platters to smaller plates. Although some of the dishes came out rapidly we did not feel rushed. I think that if Ben and Limster had not been there we still could have gotten the staff to guide and assist us in menu choices. The room itself is a notch or two above the average in the area.
Overall, while East Ocean City may not be the "best" seafood in Chinatown, it seems to be among the top tier and is definitely a good choice when you want a slightly more upscale meal.
David "Zeb" Cook