MC Golfer has been raving about this restaurant in the East Bay which supposedly serves the best Chinese food in the Bay Area. He’s even gone as far to say it’s as good, if not better than the many really good Chinese restaurants in Southern California. If you know Chinese food in So Cal, then you know those are some pretty powerful words.
Although I never find the traditional appetizer cold plates very interesting, these two particular ones were refreshingly different. In particular, the dish on the right, included some pickled carrots, daikon and cucumber along with bean curd sheets which I really liked. Most of the time, the appetizer plates are like a variety pack that you buy from Costco: there is always one flavor in there that you don’t like. However, it was quite the opposite. Not a bad dish in the bunch. The other dish had roasted pork, steamed chicken and a headcheese-like meat which are probably more commonly served, but they were all equally tasty.
The crab was served completely cold which was a little bit odd, to say the least, but it was surprisingly refreshing. It literally tasted like it came straight out of the ocean. I enjoyed this unique kind of preparation.
I have only tried geoduck less than a handful of times, and I haven’t been really impressed. It tends to be a little too chewy, but with this sashimi-style preparation, the geoduck was a little bit more tender and also had a markedly “fresh out of the ocean” flavor. I had mixed feelings about this very raw taste. It was interesting after the first piece, but I felt a little nauseous after the second piece.
The Geoduck Soup had an obviously more diluted essence of geoduck which was a bit more palatable than the sashimi of geoduck. The tofu, chicken and bittergreens added some much more neutral tasting proteins and vegetables to the soup.
Peking Duck probably represents the most traditional dish of any Chinese banquet, and this preparation was just as traditional and tasty as I’ve ever had. The duck meat is separated from the hotly crisped duck skin and served with the white buns, scallions and hoisin sauce.
These prawns were ginormous and served with a rather thick skin left on. After tediously pealing the skin away, the succulent prawn meat that was revealed was well worth it. The Maggi sauce was quite interesting and really made the prawns even more palatable.
With so many unique and interesting dishes, it is tough to say which one I liked the best, but the Prime Rib with Foie Gras Sauce might have the slight winning edge. The beef was extremely tender, and the addition of foie gras in the sauce made the entire dish absolutely tantalizing. It’s interesting how in spite of the noticeable taste of foie gras, more commonly found in Western cuisine, the dish tasted undoubtedly Chinese. The white mushrooms seemed unnecessary but actually helped balance the richness of the dish. This is definitely one of the most unique Chinese dishes and is a definite must try.
I am a big fan of pork chops, and this particular preparation with black beans and garlic sounded interesting, but it didn’t have the same savory flavors that I like from the salt and pepper version. I also felt the pork chops were a little unevenly battered so some pieces tasted too doughy.
Generally speaking, ong choy is probably one of my favorite Asian vegetables, and it is usually always very tastily prepared. However, I have to give props for how they cut up the ong choy lengthwise. It seems so simple, but not only does it make the ong choy so much easier to eat, but it takes the dish up a level of refinement.
I was beyond full at this point, but the food kept coming and I couldn’t help but continue to eat. The curry sauce was poured over a hot skillet of deep-fried tofu. Not only was it a unique presentation, but the flavors were equally extraordinary. The tofu was soft inside but had a creamier texture than usual. According to MC Golfer, I think they make their tofu is homemade. I really enjoyed the subtle curry flavor of the sauce, and the seafood was just the cherry on top.
The steamed preparation of the fish is typical for Chinese cuisine, but the meat of this particular fish was quite special. With its oily texture, the fish tasted absolutely unctuous like “buttah.” It was a pretty traditional Chinese preparation, but the fresh quality of the fish made this dish even more delightful to eat.
Every Chinese banquet seems to end with fried rice, but in line with this evening’s inspired menu, it seems only fitting that we’d get this particularly divine dish of Lobster over Sticky Rice. Not only was there plenty of flavorful lobster meat, but the rice, less sticky than you would expect, was mixed with the same garlicy goodness that normally is used to prepare the lobster. In spite of how much food I had already eaten, the sticky rice and lobster was so addictively delicious, I kept eating more.
I was beyond stuffed by this point…. seriously, but MC Golfer insisted that we try this. Mochi with Black Sesame actually didn’t sound that appetizing especially for my savory-favoring taste buds, but one bite and I truly tasted heaven. The black sesame filling was creamy and surprisingly more savory than sweet, and the mochi dough provided the perfect backdrop, moist and chewy without being difficult to eat. This was a truly special dish.
Although this looks like a pretty common Chinese dessert, it still tasted above average in comparison to the same desserts served at other Chinese restaurants. The mango flavor tasted more natural, not like it came out of a box of powder.
There ended up being so much leftover food that most everyone took enough to have a whole other meal the next day. The food was absolutely delicious though. I kept thinking the entire time that it’s been so long since I’ve eaten something truly different and unique at a Chinese restaurant. It’s one of the few cuisines where I feel like I’ve eaten it all (even though I am sure I haven’t), so it was quite pleasant to have a meal where I was consistently discovering something new, if not in the actual dish, in the preparation. Like MC Golfer kept saying throughout the evening, “It’s like they care just a little bit more.”
Saigon Seafood Harbor
3150 Pierce St.
Richmond, CA 94804
PAFO Ratings for Saigon Seafood Harbor:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars