Friday, November 17, 2006

Dish on Dining: King of King

The working man's (or woman's) dim sum joint

1139 E. 12 St., Oakland
(at 11th Avenue)
10 a.m.-10 p.m., daily; dim sum from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
PH: (510) 663-9318

Growing up in Hawaii, my family would go and get dim sum at least once every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. There were maybe three regular dim sum restaurants we would go to and they typically broke down as follows: fancy and crowded, decent and cheap, or lousy but we couldn't get into the first two.

In the Bay Area, we're lucky that we have a variety of Chinese tea houses serving the favorite family meal of dim sum. Whether you're in San Francisco, on the Peninsula, in San Jose or on the East Bay, you can find a decent dim sum place within a 20-minute drive, oftentimes less.

In Oakland, there are several regular restaurants that continue to attract families and adventurous foodies looking for their favorite steamed dumplings or deep-fried anything. Recently, I decided to try King of King Restaurant on E. 12th Street--a neighborhood often neglected by most Oakland residents but starting to attract more and more Asian restaurants.

The headline of this review pretty much gives away my thoughts on this restaurant. And going back to my family's division of regular dim sum places, King of King would fall in the category of "decent and cheap." Let me explain why.

The dim sum is rolled out in the traditional carts and is definitely served fresh. There's a nice taste to some, especially the pan-fried turnip cakes and har gaw (steamed shrimp dumplings). But it lacked in presentation, at times, and in diversity of offerings. It had all the basics and a few others (especially when it came to the deep-fried selection), but nothing that opened my eyes to something new.

There were also some missteps. The mushrooms stuffed with ground pork lacked flavor, and the mushrooms didn't taste like they had been cooked all the way. The sticky rice wrapped with lotus leaf (one of my favorite dim sum choices) had minimal ingredients stuffed inside and the rice was slightly undercooked. And the dahn tat (custard tarts) were cold.

Still, what King of King has going for it is its pricing (there were three of us at our table and our tab only came up to about $40) and lack of crowds (we were there on a Sunday, arriving at about 11:30 a.m. and were easily seated).

Minor note: For some reason, the restaurant's frying cart was unusually slow in prepping its offerings. Frying carts allow the server to pan-fry certain dishes, typically the turnip or chestnut cakes or wor teep (also known as half moons or gyoza). But on this particular day, it seemed forever for us to get our orders from the portable frying cart lady. My tip would be to order your pan-fried favorites right away because it'll probably arrive after you've already eaten four to five other dim sum dishes.

King of King isn't as grand as its name implies. (They didn't even bother to decorate their stark white walls with the traditional Chinese paintings of koi, running horses, or peonies.) So King of King is more like a prince (and not even a crown prince for that matter). Still, it offers your traditional dim sum fare without the fuss and for a decent price. Keep it in your rotation for times when you're on a budget.

Single guy rating: 2 stars (good for first-time dim sum diners and people on a budget)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

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