Chowhound dinner at Happy Families, Oakland (long)
- Nathan Landau
We had the Chowhound Oakland Chinatown dinner tonight at Happy Families. Happy Families is at the corner of 10th & Harrison, on the northeast edge of Oakland Chinatown. All eight of us appeared, and we happily chowed through a family style menu for eight (plus lobster with vermicelli). The family dinner menu was only in Chinese, which none of us read, but we were able to persuade the waiter to give us at least a rough translation. We opted for the $98 seafood-oriented version, rather than the $68 version, which seems like it was a good call. We of course shared all food, so any of the other 7 attendees can correct or amend this report.
We were stuck in a table in the corner in this fairly small and unprepossesing but not tiny restaurant. Not to complain, they gave us a neighboring table as a food staging area until they needed it for other diners. Our location was fine until the AC kicked in, nearly freezing us until we discovered that we could get warm by standing up! When we arrived the place was almost empty, by the time we left a couple hours later the place was almost full, mostly with what appeared to be family groupings (the degree of their happiness could not, however, be immediately determined).
It was a meal where everything was good, but nothing was outstanding. One of the dishes that everybody remembered best was a basic seafood soup at the beginning, with yellow chives and real crab meat. The soup also wasn't too heavy on the cornstarch. Also relatively memorable was mushrooms and tender greens. The brown/black shitakes looked silky and tasted firm, the mustard greens were the proper degree of bitterness.
The rich but just this side of too rich roast duck, which we almost didn't get (had to ask for it) was one
of the favorites. We also had nicely seasoned salt and pepper prawns and scallops and veggies. Several people thought this was too subtle/bland, particularly in the wake of beef with bell, red, and hot peppers. We also had crab in its shell with roe (the egg textured roe was a big hit), as well as the aforementioned lobster--which also came with roe--on vermicelli in a rather sticky but clear sauce. The catfish in black and brown bean sauce sported plenty of ginger and garlic to keep the spicehounds among us happy.
The fixed menu, lobster, and beer for most people came, with tax (not tip) to $155 for the 8 of us.
It wasn't an extraordinary find, but it was a really good meal.
Nathan, thank you for taking such good notes about the course of our dinner. It was a very enjoyable evening - people were hungry and adventurous enough to try new things: several folks tried the crab roe/tomalley for the first time. The lobster over noodles was a slight disappointment - a bit too subtle. Nice firm noodles but the lobster flavor seemed a bit too ephemeral. In fairness, if it had been served first before we started having some of the more spicy and or savory dishes it might have fared better. Also some of the shells weren't cracked at all and made it very difficult to extract the meat, even though Shep had his "Toolman" gadget ever handy. Portions were generous - especially the mustard greens and black mushroom dish, which I really enjoyed. The roast duck was our last dish....and it came only after we inquired about it
( gotta keep track of how many dishes come out) It was very tasty - moist and rich. We were all pretty satisfied at this point but we pretty much finished it off anyways. Good meal, good company. Oh, yes, we had the Belfast Imitation Cider also. (don't expect any apple flavor)