Over the past few years, I have been taking out a huge order from the Original Peking Restaurant in El Cerrito almost every Sunday. From the renowned sesame chicken and fresh crab and lobster, to the perfectly crunchy crispy chicken and decadent Mongolian lamb, I must have eaten half the menu. Now, quite suddently, it all may be over: effective this month, the Original Peking Restaurant is under new management with a new menu.
How does the new kitchen stack up? Here's a brief roundup of this past Sunday's order.
Wonton Soup: The earlier recipe was characterized by a moderate number of plump wonton with tender, easily torn/shredded skins in a rich broth. The new recipe is about the opposite: a bevy of small dumplings in firmer, yellower skins (more like gyoza wrappers), in a weak broth without a distinct chicken or seafood flavor note (and even a bit undersalted). Not recommended.
Sesame Chicken: The earlier recipe featured plump chunks of chicken, lightly floured and deep fried, coated thinly with a frankly sweet red sauce and sprinkled generously with sesame seeds. Much has changed, starting with the thicker batter used on the chicken pieces. The sauce is a more natural honey color, but poured on in quantity, making the chicken a bit soggy. Sesame seeds are in shorter supply, but broccoli has been added (I imagine that those dining in might see an attractive plating of shrimp in a broccoli ring). Nothing special.
Snow Pea Prawns: There is little magic to this dish, the key being the use of sparkling fresh snow peas and plump, fresh shrimp. The new recipe uses somewhat smaller shrimp, and adds baby corn; the scent was a bit fishy, and the snow peas unattractively spotted. Sadly, not an improvement.
Kung Pao Prawns: Inexplicably omitted from the new menu, but readily available, this is a dish that seems more than most others to vary among Chinese restaurants. While both recipes use stir-fried shrimp (I've been served battered and fried!), the vegetable medley has shifted, featuring a strong dose of green bell peppers and celery, and the sauce, formerly a lightly applied spicy brown, now is thicker, redder, and more assertive, more Sriracha than dried red chillies. I prefer the older style.
Crispy Chicken with Hot Sauce: A small chicken deep fried without breading, chopped and served on the bone with a hot dipping sauce, was one of our favorites, a low-guilt fried chicken. While the new menu does not list this dish, the kitchen does make it and although the sauce is quite different, the meat was done just right. This dish is a winner.
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce: Little change here; the broccoli stems could be a bit more tender.
At this point, the restaurant has moved from column "A" to column "C." It is not completely fair to compare so early in the transition, so I hope that others will report back over time to see how they progress. We probably will check it again in a couple months.