My latest food obsession is Shanghai soup dumplings, or xiao lung baos, and I’m pretty frustrated that I can’t find decent ones near my home in Oakland.
So after an Oakland A’s game, my friend Virginia suggested we check out Ark Chinese restaurant in Alameda. I rarely head out to Alameda because I don’t have a car and it’s a bit of a trek on the bus, but Virginia was driving so we were all set. Alameda’s popular Park Street definitely has changed in recent years with several new restaurants in just a few blocks.
Northern Chinese Focus
Ark sticks out among the shiny new restaurants because it has the typical dive-look of many Chinese restaurants in America. Other than the koi fishes swimming in a small aquarium up front, there’s very little in décor, making the place look more like a low-key neighborhood spot.
The food is primarily Northern Chinese, with dumplings and hand-pulled noodles. But Virginia tells me that the owners are also Cantonese, so that explains the unusual section of the menu known as “baked rice.” These are dishes similar to what you’d find in a Hong Kong café, where rice is cooked with ingredients and a sauce that acts like baked cheese (although it’s not).
The food all has a rough-around-the-edges feel, which provides probably the comfort of home cooking, like your Chinese grandma would make for you. A cooling appetizer of cucumbers and peanut salad ($5.99) had big chunks of cucumber slices sitting in a lot of soupy sauce, which made it seem more like a stir-fry. And the baked dish we ordered, baked taro with seafood rice ($7.99) had nice chunks of fresh taro but didn’t seem to have a refined touch with the sauce making.
The biggest offender of this home-style trend was the hot and sour noodle soup ($6.99 for a medium bowl), which sounded interesting but was covered with ordinary vegetables like snow peas and carrots and what seemed like cubes of luncheon meat. The hand-pulled noodles were good, although a bit on the chewy side.
The Last Bite
Where Ark (I don’t really understand the name) shines is the juicy pork soup dumplings or xiao lung baos, serving up eight dumplings for $6.99. While the skin was slightly on the thick side, the broth was fragrant and the pork filling satisfying. These are some of the best xiao lung baos I’ve had in Alameda County.
Ark has unpretentious food, which makes it a comfortable spot for families. It adds a nice variety to the line up on Park Street, and definitely order the juicy pork soup dumplings (or maybe a second order.
Ark Chinese Restaurant, 1405 Park St., Alameda, Calif. PH: 510.521.6862. Open Wed.–Mon., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 4:30–9:30 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.arkchineserestaurant.com
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