Today a group of 9 chowwomen and one chowman had lunch at Legendary Palace in Oakland Chinatown. The attendees were Chowfish, Melanie, Pat, Celery, Alexandra, Mabel, Yimster, RWCfoody, Tida, and myself. As the last to arrive, I have the honor of the write-up. The comments below reflect my opinions plus group discussion. Im sure the other attendees will add to my comments. We tried the following:
Chicken feet: Tasty, but not as tender as they should be.
Pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings: These were tough.
Shrimp rolls: Good flavor, although the shrimp were a little too tough.
Turnip cakes: Very good, with good flavor, the right texture and served the right temperature. At first, a few of us thought they were a bit mushy, but we were informed by the more knowledgeable dim sum eaters at the table that that was because we had never had them properly prepared before. The crisper, firmer turnip cakes to which we were accustomed were actually the lesser cakes.
Siu mai: These did not make it around to my side, but the consensus was that they were OK.
Tripe: The flavor of the tripe was excellent and we had a great lesson on the different types of tripe. We were served book tripe, also known as leafy tripe, the 2nd stomach (out of 4) of the cow. The only criticism was that it should have been cut into smaller pieces.
Peanut and pork dumplings: I did not care for these. The peanuts were bitter, possibly a little rancid.
Suckling pig: A big hit, particularly the skin which was wonderfully crispy with just a thin layer of fat behind. There wasnt much meat attached, but it was tasty.
Spare ribs: These looked better than they tasted. The flavor was good but the meat was dry and tough.
Panko-fried sea bass: This was delicious. Very light and not greasy. Yimster swears they called it salt and pepper sea bass, but it was not a salt and pepper fish like anyone had ever had i.e. not much salt or pepper. But everyone liked it on its own merits.
Song Chow Sweet Rice: Chinese risotto, a dish new to many of us. It was creamy from the rice and crunchy from the bits of meat and vegetables that studded it.
Bean skin egg rolls: Way too oily.
Empress chicken: Delicious steamed chicken with a scallion, ginger, and salt dipping sauce. According to Melanie, the chicken was properly cooked red at the bone. In many restaurants this is overcooked because Americans are afraid of pink chicken. The skin was nice and firm and I could have eaten the sauce straight from the dish.
Taro cakes: These were light and greaseless.
Fried soft shell crabs: Meaty, juicy and a little spicy. After the lunch Yimster led us to the shop around the corner where he recently saw a package of 5 or 6 soft shell crabs for $5. They were out of the crabs but we saw a box of armadillo, which I thought was a fish with scales like an armadillo since Id never seen one as anything but roadkill. There was also a box of rattlesnake.
Spare ribs with black beans: Meaty, but standard-issue.
Flower tofu (dessert): Soft tofu with ginger-flavored simple syrup.
Melanie brought a bottle of 1999 Echarderie Coteaux du Layon which we enjoyed with dessert. Made from chenin blanc grapes tinged with a little botrytis. It is $13 and can be purchased at Wm. Cross Wine Merchants on Polk St. in SF.
Overall we enjoyed the meal and felt it to be a bargain at $11.50/ person including tax and tip. Several dishes stood out: suckling pig, empress chicken, tripe, turnip cakes, sea bass and soft-shell crabs. For the most part the dumplings were serviceable, but not great. The quality of the food seemed to correspond somewhat to their 3 kitchens: dumpling kitchen, barbeque kitchen, and a kitchen that cooks everything else with the weakest being the dumpling kitchen. With that in mind, I know Id like to return for a meal where I order off of the regular menu.