Thanks to a series of tips from Yimster, our family and another family from Martinez had a great dinner at the Lucky Dragon in Pleasant Hill on August 12th. Yimster recommended the Westlake Soup but it was a hot day and nobody wanted to have soup. Ditto on the oxtail stew in the clay pot.
However, we did go for the salt & pepper crab for $15 and what we got was a live crab, a little over a pound, cooked in the S&P style, which is to say that the crab in the shell was hacked into hunks, battered with a salt and pepper batter, and deep fried. I was the only one willing to eat Chinese style, tearing into it with my fingers and sucking the meat from the crevices, while getting a mouthful of the salty, savory crispy batter. Pretty good effect, though it would have been nice to have Japanese-style "oshibori", which are dampened terry cloth towels rolled up and put on little plates. The paper napkins just don't do the same job. As Colonel Bucket would have said, it was "finger licking good."
Another Yimster rec was the Sweet & Sour Pork, $7, which he said was an "over order dish, but they really do it the way it should." After we gasped at the flaming nearly fluorescent red color, we dug into the chunks of tender pork, which were first battered and fried, then smothered with the sweet Fire Engine Red sauce. Quite good, though I was expecting something just a touch more unusual.
Interestingly, the highlight of the meal was the legendary "A" Choy, which we saw the server picking through over a newspaper soon after we ordered it. Everyone loved its tender, yet crisp texture, while the fresh garlic chips in very hot oil used to stir fry this (presumably in about one minute) added a welcome savory touch without getting too much in the way of the vegetable's subdued flavor. We asked the server to write the name of this in Chinese characters so we could start looking for it in Tokyo, but apparently the "A" is just the roman letter A, while the Choy is the character for leafy vegetable.
(However, last week I did find this vegetable in a market, but it was sold as "ku-shin-sai" which is the Japanese pronunciation of the characters for "empty/open", "core" and "leafy vegetable." If it was indeed ku-shin-sai, it was a very young version of it.)
My wife requested some Mu Shu Vegetables, $7, which were satisfactory, but would have benefited from a bit more oil in the cooking as it was a touch on the dry side. Mu Shu meats should be no problem.
We also got some pork chow mein ($4.75) per requests from the children, and it was pleasant and filling.
What was most striking to me was the high quality of the food and service compared to the very low prices on the menu. Throw in the plenty of free parking, and it's likely that those living in the East Bay would do better coming here rather than trying to drive into SF for a similar meal at similar prices.
Thanks again for the tip and the advice, Yimster. I appreciate you sharing the minute details of Chinese cuisine and culture with us non-Chinese.