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Chowdown lunch report - Sam's Restaurant in downtown Oakland

crimson Aug 4, 2006 09:26 PM

I went to a chowdown lunch today and met some very nice people. Thank you Joel for the wine and Marc for getting everyone together. We had the banquet meal which included many items. Here is my quick summary. I'm sorry that the food descriptions are not that great since I didn't see the menu. Better descriptions to come and let me know if I have forgotten anything.

Fish Maw soup - light and delicate with a great texture on the fish maw. It was not too bland and had just enough salt for my taste. Joel was right. The fish maw is the swim bladder.

Scallops - nothing really special about the scallops. They were prepared nice and had a good overall balance.

Crab - The flavor was wonderful with specs of garlic crusted over the shell, but the crab meat was a little too mushy for my taste.

Fish - had a slight gingery taste and good overall flavor. I though it was just a tad too oily but I did like the tenderness of the fish.

Chicken - the skin was moist and the chicken was cooked just right. It had a juiciness that is rare in most chinese places. The sauce that it came with complimented the chicken really well.

Duck with Taro in Hot Pot - I really enjoyed the duck and although I am not a fan of taro it was actually quite good. I didn't have much of the sauce but overall a good dish.

Vegetables with preserved egg - the preserved egg added a nice flavor to the vegetables.

Vegetables with garlic - generic rendition of this dish. nothing bad about it but nothing special either.

Squab - everyone's least favorite. It was a little bland, though I did like the crispiness of the skin. Other than not nothing special.

All in all, all the dishes were very good and no one left with an empty stomach. The highlights for me would be the chicken and the duck. My least favorite would be the squab and the fish.

Gordon took most of the photos although there are some more that I took here.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoonhkim/sets/72157594224376461/

I've also posted this on my little food blog here.
http://dinearoundtown.typepad.com/web...

Hoon aka crimson.

  1. m
    maus1 Aug 5, 2006 03:47 PM

    The company was delightful and set the stage for a very agreeable lunch! I was happy that we could substitute some of the dishes for more interesting ones. We all agreed that we did not need the mayo-walnut-shrimp (plus I am allergic to shrimp, a real drawback in seafood restaurants! Yet I can assure you that I never leave a chowdown hungry!)

    The Taro duck was smooth and not too salty. As mentioned, it was not mushy which is sometimes the case. There could have been more duck meat, but what was there was soft and well done.

    The peashoots with egg were a true epiphany. Jade colored with the yellow yolks and dark albumen! Lots of garlic. Great dish!

    The Chicken was perfectly cooked, juicy and accompanied with the ginger-oil sauce. A nice example of the dish.

    I also liked the scallop dish (I CAN eat bivalves!)it had a mild sauce which went well with the stronger flavoured dishes.

    The squab had died of natural old age....

    Great service (the waitress translated kindly the secret group menu)or at least read it for those who could understand! (Thanks Gordon). Thanks Marc and Joel (our vintner!)

    1. j
      Joel Aug 5, 2006 05:27 AM

      Agree with all comments. The squab, we conjectured, may have spent a lot of time in the same tank as the rather tired crab.
      Since Yimster was not present, I got to eat the fish head, the chicken head, the innards from one of the crabs, and one of the squab heads.

      Great pictures from Gordon and Crimson, thanks.

      For the record:
      Total cost (with 20% tip) was $17 per person.

      Sam's Restaurant
      419 15th Street (between Franklin and Broadway)
      Oakland
      (510) 839-9026

      1. g
        gordon wing Aug 5, 2006 01:11 AM

        One more note about fish maw .... since there was some conjecture about what it is. Here's a link to a more detailed description but it is the air bladder and the Chinese believe that it improves blood circulation and is good for your general health. It's considered a luxury ingredient - there were quite a few good size chunks of it in the soup toureen....no skimping.

        http://www.chinesefood-recipes.com/fo...

        1. a
          alfairfax Aug 5, 2006 12:57 AM

          General hearty agreement with fellow lunch hounds: very satisfying lunch with really pleasant company and what Cynthia said about sum being greater than parts. Even though I was not overwhealmed by any specific dish I liked them all at least some and liked most a lot and found the whole lunch banquet to be very well prepared. Agree that crab was too mushy and squab too dry but my guess this was quality of ingredient not method of cooking. (Why offer crab when it cannot be too fresh from the sea likely having flown in from British Columbia on a slow plane? Keep it seasonal and regional and serve better quality...) I really liked the fish--so moist and sweet; and the ducky taro root especially soaked in sauce at bottom of pot; and the juicy chicken. Nice to have squid so well cooked in the seafood stir-fry. And pea shoots with preserved egg also fine. Here is how the meal was: I even liked the squab although dry and would be happy to try a few more Sam's things. Thanks to Marc for arranging and Marc, Gordon and Marlon for subbing the duck/taro clay pot for mayo-shrimp and to Joel for the wine.

          1. b
            billibi Aug 5, 2006 12:52 AM

            The dishes that came out were consistently good; I liked everything save the squab. The fish maw soup was a fine balance of delicate flavors. Yes, the Crab was mushy, but the great flavor of the sauce was more than enough of an apology. I was surprised that the fish, which I did like, was so oily. Perhaps proof of real skill in the kitchen was the chicken. The bird was plump and had the requisite thin layer of fat beneath the skin. The chicken which was delicate in texture and flavor was left alone; no overwhelming sauces. My favorite dish was the pea sprouts and preserved eggs (which I adore anyway). Thanks to Marc for the organizing, Joel for the wine. By the way, in case you missed it, shot # 5 of Crimson's pictures is of our fearless financiers deep in discussion of the (very reasonable) bill.

            1. Cynsa Aug 5, 2006 12:02 AM

              It may be 'the sum is greater than its parts' dictum, but I thoroughly enjoyed today's lunch at Sam's; it is undoubtedly the excellent company of chowhounds that I relish and the comfort food of the Cantonese kitchen at Sam's. A bite of this and a bite of that; then a bite more makes a great lunch.
              -I am a taro addict and the duck with taro dish was very satisfying... the preserved eggs with greens, the fish maw soup also topped my list of favorites. Overall, nothing marred a perfect afternoon of friendly chowing.
              -For tonight's after-dinner dessert, we will have Fat Apples' fresh peach pie (my bonus for driving across the Bay Bridge)

              1. Eugene Park Aug 4, 2006 11:56 PM

                Another successful Chowlunch!! The group was in unanimous agreement that the majority of the dishes were good to very good, with only 1 (the squab) that would get an "Eh" review. It's nice when there are a lot of hits (steamed chicken, pea shoots with preserved egg, fish maw and seafood soup, duck & taro clay pot) with so few misses (squab meat kinda bland and crab meat was a bit mushy, though both dishes also had redeeming qualities in the crispy skin of the squab and the tasty sauce covering the crab).

                Props to Marc for recommending this place, and to Joel for providing his very nice 2004 Cab Franc.....er I mean fortified grape juice.

                1. m
                  Marc Wallace Aug 4, 2006 11:21 PM

                  The greens with preserved egg were definitely my favorite dish. Somehow, the egg added a nice creaminess that did not interfere with the crispy, fresh vegetables.

                  I didn't mind the squab all that much, but mostly because it came right after the vegetable dishes, and it served as a nice foil for that, maintaining a sort of balance. But there wasn't a whole lot to the squab except for very crispy skin, and if I had to pick one dish to eat there, that wouldn't be the one.

                  The taro claypot, though, was quite something. I also have never been all that fond of taro, but this may cause me to change my mind. It went very well with my rice, which had been flavored from a lot of the other dishes.

                  Glad so many people could make it with almost no notice whatsoever! Look for an upcoming announcement for a pair of Champa Gardens chowlunches (two so we don't overwhelm them) that Marlon will post in the next day or so. It's not "downtown", but there are probably enough of us who can pick one person up that we can ferry people over from BART...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Marc Wallace
                    Melanie Wong Aug 5, 2006 07:28 AM

                    Anyone who would like to help organize East Bay chowdowns and receive announcements by email can sign up here -
                    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eastbay...

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      m
                      maus1 Aug 5, 2006 03:34 PM

                      Thanks Marc and Melanie...The evites have been sent and barring any technical problems should be in you inbox soon! I would like to echo the existance of the two groups SFlunchseries and the Eastbaychowdown which though they overlap also give people the chance to focus events to some extent. See you all soon!

                  2. j
                    jhinky Aug 4, 2006 11:11 PM

                    This was my first official Chowdown lunch and except for a getting a parking ticket (fie horrible OPD parking ticket man), I absolutely loved it. The food was of a good standard and the company was outstanding!

                    I think Hoon did a good job of describing the dishes. We got the banquet menu for 8-10 but it was in Chinese script and Gordon / Derek / Marlon did a good job of getting the lady who waited on us to translate and sub the 'Shrimp with Walnut and Mayo' for the Duck with taro in claypot dish.

                    I would agree that the duck was both new to me and the dish I enjoyed the most. Taro is not something I am very fond of and find it bland and heavy normally. The dish was served very very hot and the taro cubes were firm but almost crispy instead of being too mushy. The sauce tasted like caramelized onion and soy and a sweet tinge of something (dark soy?). Maybe since it was a substitute it was either a special of the day or made fresher than the others in the family dinner menu?

                    The chicken and crab and scallops were all excellent but I have to say I liked the fish a lot too. It was a bit oily but probably because the fish was fatty to begin with and it tasted really fresh to me. Loved the strands of ginger in the fish. The chicken also had slices of ginger in the sauce that I liked. I guess the food was very well flavored right from the delicate soup to the deep robust sauce with the duck.

                    I would say I liked the duck and the fish the most, followed closely by the chicken / crab and scallops. Least favorite would be the squab felt overcooked. The salt to sprinkle on it was interesting though - does anyone know what that was?

                    Really glad to have met all the lovely chowhounders and waiting for the next chowdown I can attend!

                    Urmi aka jhinky

                    1. g
                      gordon wing Aug 4, 2006 10:52 PM

                      Hoon (Crimson), thanks for your summary of today's lunch @ Sam's Restaurant. My favorite dish was the pea shoots & preserved eggs. I'm not crazy about eating preserved eggs by themselves but the way they were used in this dish was just perfect.....they added a salty element as well as a visual one. The mixed seafood stir-fry was one of the better versions of this ubiquitous dish. Someone in the kitchen has a very nice way with the seasoning. Enjoyed the fish. The crab was sweet but the texture a bit soft. The chicken was popular - I would have liked it cooked just a bit less - still tasty,though. The duck/taro clay pot was very savory.
                      Here's a link to my photos:

                      http://w43.photobucket.com/widgets/dy...

                      Sam's Restaurant. 419 - 15th St near Broadway, Oakland,CA 94612 510.839-9026

                      thank you Marc for organizing! The service was quite good - they changed our side plates twice and generally were on top of things .... refilling teapots, more rice, etc...
                      There was a bit of a language barrier (no one fluent in Chinese and they didn't do English all that well ) but it all worked out. :~) Right now it's still Cash only - don't have their Credit Card system set up and they don't have a liquor license so Joel had to sneak a few tastes of his wine in tea cups.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gordon wing
                        g
                        gordon wing Aug 5, 2006 12:37 AM

                        I just realized that you can click on any one of the mini pictures on the strip of images and get a bigger, more detailed image.
                        Looking closer at the pea shoots & preserved egg - they also worked in egg whites to make the whole thing more creamy and maybe to ameliorate the funkiness of the preserved egg ... yin/yang like :~)

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