As we drove through the Webster tunnel heading into Alameda, my friend Vera turned to me and said, “I’ve never had really bad dim sum.”
We tried to assure ourselves because we were headed to Chef’s Wok, a dim sum place I only noticed awhile back when heading to East Ocean, probably the most popular dim sum destination in Alameda (if not the East Bay). At East Ocean, there’s a huge and bustling dining area, efficient servers on headphones placing orders to the kitchen, and roving carts delivering countless dim sum delicacies to the tables.
So East Ocean can be a long wait. Just a block away, Chef’s Wok also attracts a crowd out front, and since I’ve never tried it, I wondered whether it was just as good as East Ocean.
I recruited Vera and my friend Jessie, who recently moved to Alameda. We arrived super early to beat the crowds, and easily found a table. Chef’s Wok, despite the cheesy name, is quite grand inside, looking like any fancy Hong Kong-style tea house with the sparkling red-and-gold decor. The only oddity was the flat-screen TVs showing sports games.
Chef’s Wok has the rolling carts and thus began the parade of dishes. We grabbed a few of our standard favorites, like siu mai, cheong fun (flat rice noodles), and lo bok gou (pan-fried daikon cakes). We also grabbed some specialty dishes like stir-fry eggplants and xiao lung bao (Shanghai soup dumplings).
As I ate, there was a common feel to all the dim sum. They were all lackluster, just average dim sum that were decent but nothing exciting happening in my mouth. The lo bok gou, usually my favorite, actually seemed dense and almost rubbery. The xiao lung bao had come out dumpy from over steaming, and the siu mai had an odd appearance with the shrimp roe on top.
Another thing I learned about Chef’s Wok is it has very little creative dishes. Many of the carts that came rolling by kept returning with the same dishes, so after awhile we didn’t even bother to ask what they had because it was the same dishes we were already eating. Even when we asked for some of our favorites (Jessie likes the chives dumplings), we were told that they didn’t make them.
Later a few different dishes came out, like a roasted pork dish and a sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves. But the roast pork, while with a crispy skin, had a cold texture which didn’t go well with the fatty part, and the sticky rice was overcooked with very little ingredients stuffed inside.
The entrance started to get crowded as we were almost done, and I concluded that they were probably over-flow from East Ocean, or people who come to Chef’s Wok for the lower prices. And while it’s true that you can’t really have bad dim sum, Chef’s Wok does prove that there can be mediocre dim sum.
Chef’s Wok, 1821 Webster St., Alameda. PH: 510.337.9388. Major credit cards accepted. Daily dim sum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.chefswokalameda.com
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