While you were watching the Oscars, seven of us had dinner Sunday night at Little Hong Kong in El Cerrito.
We had many of the dishes that we always enjoy: Peking Duck (served with buns, although they will do pancakes if you want), salt and pepper prawns (superb rendition), pea vines with garlic, spinach with egg (preserved egg, salted duck egg, regular egg), clams in wine sauce. We also ordered crab. Dungeness crab is not one of my favorite items; it does not have that much flavor. The Salt and Pepper versions, or the Vietnamese roasted crab, produce an intensely flavored coating or sauce which is delicious, but the crab disappears. At LHK, however, they have a Crab and Fried Rice dish on the menu for $12. I'm sure the "old China hands" on this board are familiar with this dish, but it has become my favorite. A bamboo steamer tray is brought to the table, and when the lid is lifted there is a wonderful fragrance -- the dish is entirely wrapped in a huge lotus leaf, and steamed. Inside is "fried rice" -- lightly fried, though, with flavorsome bits of mushroom and scallop. Atop this generous bed of rice is a crab, dismembered. The juice from the crab flavors the rice, the steam from the rice cooks the crab. There was sufficient rice so that we did not need to order any plain rice. My only disappointment was having to share the gooey parts inside the crabshell with our guest from England.
Other dishes we've enjoyed at LHK include the steamed flounder, and (in season) the silk squash (Chinese okra). This time we ordered an eggplant dish that was controversial; it was in a strange orange sweet/sour sauce, but some liked it. They comped us a cold tapioca dessert, charged a total of $10 for corkage on three bottles of wine, and the bill for seven was $104 before tip.
Then the sad news. Our waiter, our favorite waiter, told us this was his last night at the restaurant. Because the owners were retiring. And the owners, we now discover, are his parents! Mom on the cash register, dad in the kitchen. But dad's hands are giving out, so he can't cook the way he used to. He came out and chatted with us for a bit -- he's great-looking for someone in the mid-sixties. Very nice fellow, but we could see his hands were in bad shape. They assured us that the new owners would keep the same name, the same menu -- even the other cooks in the kitchen are staying (including the Peking Duck specialist). So we will be back to try it in a while.
Little Hong Kong
10443 San Pablo Avenue (just south of Moeser)