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Kung Pao in the East Bay

t
TopoTail Apr 12, 2010 02:54 PM

I had a craving for kung pao chicken today, so I went to China Village, figuring they'd get it right. It was disgusting. Reminded me of sweet and sour pork in that the chicken was heavily breaded and soaked with a cloying sauce. There were a few whole chili peppers, but they didn't begin to balance the sugar in the sauce.

Who does kung pao right in the East Bay and isn't afraid to make it spicy? (My fave is Henry's Hunan in the city, but I'm looking for an East Bay fix.)

  1. p
    Pius Avocado III Apr 13, 2010 09:49 AM

    Spices 3. Up until a month or two ago that would have come without reservation; however, last time I went every dish was so different from the norm for this place that it was like going somewhere entirely different (somewhere worse).

    Haven't been back recently, so I don't know whether this was an unfortunate one-off or that Spices! 3 (that's how they refer to themselves) has to be put on watch for possible downgrade...

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    Spices 3
    369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    2 Replies
    1. re: Pius Avocado III
      c
      calalilly Apr 13, 2010 10:01 AM

      I agree. I used to really love Spices 3 but the quality of the food as gone way downhill. I wonder if it's because they opened up a new place in the South Bay and the chef/owner is down there now.

      As for Wuling, I heard they recently closed. So sad. Something about one of the owners being in bad health, not sure.

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      Spices 3
      369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

      Wuling
      10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

      1. re: calalilly
        twocents Apr 13, 2010 11:44 PM

        RE: Wuling- if you read Chinese, there's a sign posted in the window.

        I agree Spices! 3 used to have Kung Pao as the OP described. I was there about 2 months ago and it seemed more or less the same, which is to say, ok. (Spices, not necessarily Kung Pao).

        I was having lunch at Golden Bowl in El Cerrito recently and saw that Kung Pao was an option with their lunch specials. From the tiny picture it looked correct, i.e. cubed chicken, not breaded. The lunch specials are truly massive plates of food, entree, (rice, fried rice or chow mein), egg roll, little funny salad, and hot and sour soup for 7-8 dollars. The things I tried were not as good as their regular menu items that I order, but there are enough choices that some of them are likely to be the same or as good as the Sichuan stuff.

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        Wuling
        10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

    2. lexdevil Apr 13, 2010 12:22 AM

      I have, over the years, noticed two distinct schools of "kung pao." One is a stir fry of dark meat chicken, peanuts, chiles, bamboo shoots, and (often) veggies, esp. zucchini. The other (for example, Little Shin Shin's Kung Pao Beef) is deep fried meat in a sweet, tart (w/ vinegar), mildly spicy, sticky, brown sauce. I've seen the second called any number of other names as well (Sichuan Beef, Mandarin Beef, Chef's Special Beef, etc.). I have no idea why the latter dish appears under so many different names, nor any idea why it sometimes shares a name with the former dish. I do wonder if the OP's unhappiness with China Village's kung pao is a result of this name confusion.

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      Little Shin Shin
      4258 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

      1. m
        Mr_Happy Apr 13, 2010 12:11 AM

        I like the kung pao chicken from Crispy Fry in the Emeryville Public Market food court. Spicy, not breaded, and made to order. Haven't been there in awhile though.

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        Crispy Fry
        5800 Shellmound St, Emeryville, CA

        1. Melanie Wong Apr 12, 2010 11:30 PM

          For whatever reason, kung pao chicken gets no love from the kitchen at China Village. There've been reports from time to time on how bad this dish is there going back to 2002, sounds like it hasn't changed.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong
            c
            chocolatetartguy Apr 13, 2010 02:09 PM

            Funny, because when I lunched there last week, I noticed that the menu listed "classic" kung pao chicken.

            The kung pao at Great China is pretty good.

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            Great China Restaurant
            2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

            1. re: chocolatetartguy
              lexdevil Apr 13, 2010 02:23 PM

              "Classic" at Great China is a code word for "you probably don't want this."

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              Great China Restaurant
              2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

              1. re: lexdevil
                c
                chocolatetartguy Apr 13, 2010 03:58 PM

                No that was China Village that called it "Classic."

                1. re: chocolatetartguy
                  lexdevil Apr 13, 2010 05:01 PM

                  That's correct. My bad. China Village labels the Chinese-American standards "classic." The adjective does not imply quality, it really means "old school" (assuming your old school is located in a small town in the Midwest circa 1962).

                  Note that other "classics" on the China Village menu include Broccoli Beef, General Tao (sic) Chicken Breast, Almond Chicken, Fried Wonton, Sizzling Rice Soup, and Sweet & Sour Prawns. China Village standouts like Spicy Charred Stir Fried Cabbage, West Style Spicy Fish Fillet, Szechwan Style Spicy Boiled Beef, etc. are NEVER described as "classic."

                  1. re: lexdevil
                    c
                    chocolatetartguy Apr 13, 2010 07:04 PM

                    Many of those dishes are classic Cantonese recipes. I think that's what they mean to say.

                    I have to say that China Village isn't my favorite, but I keep coming back because I love the hot sauce w the black beans that they have out on the table and the sesame dressing on the salad that comes with the lunch special. Any time I have to go over to Solano or El Cerrito, I usually stop by for lunch.

                    1. re: chocolatetartguy
                      lexdevil Apr 13, 2010 09:37 PM

                      I don't think "classic" = classic Cantonese in any systematic way. General's Chicken is, as far as I've read, a pretty recent US development. Broccoli is a Western introduction. Kung Pao is supposed to be a Sichuan dish, so one would not expect a restaurant like China Village to label it as classic Cantonese. The "classic" tag is appended to a wide array of dishes, including Mongolian Beef (probably a US development), Fried Rice, Chow Mien (sic), Szechwan Beef, Sesame Chicken Breast, Hot and Sour Soup (Mandarin or Sichuan), etc. Seems like the thing these dishes share is that they are part of the American Chinese cannon. If China Village made Crab Rangoon, it's my guess that it too would earn the "classic" label.

                      1. re: lexdevil
                        c
                        chocolatetartguy Apr 14, 2010 08:04 PM

                        Broccoli Beef is about as "classic" Cantonese as anything in the American Chinese canon.

          2. c
            chocolatetartguy Apr 12, 2010 06:48 PM

            I know it's not a Chinese restaurant but I really like the classic kung pao from the steam table at the Le Petite Cheval, the Vietnamese restaurant that caters to UC students (and staff). I imagine they might serve it at the main restaurant in Oakland. Lots of dried red peppers, peanuts and chicken in a fiery, reddish sauce.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chocolatetartguy
              h
              happenstance Apr 12, 2010 08:59 PM

              I've only had the Kung Pao tofu here (which I love), but Spices 3 in downtown Oakland is the place to go for the super duper chili laden food. My other fave there is explosive tofu. It is so hot it makes me a feel a little light-headed after a few pieces.

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              Spices 3
              369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

            2. Mission Apr 12, 2010 05:07 PM

              I agree with you 100% on China Villages KPC.

              I Had China Villages Kung Pao Chicken for lunch a few weeks ago too.

              Absolutely horrific and nasty rendition of a American Chinese food classic.

              It was one of the worst dishes I have eaten in the last 15 years. (yeah,I still ate about 60% of it,If I didn't have a cold beer I would not have had more than a bite)

              It tasted and looked like some weird, mucky, salty, mess of nastyness that you would get at the worst Chinese restaurant in Wyoming or Oaklahoma.

              I actually checked a few times to make sure that I was in the right Restaurant that is so often praised on Chowhound.

              You may want to try King Yen on College at Ashby they do a pretty nice version.

              I remember King Dong at Shattuck and Haste used to make a great version,but that was many years ago.

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              King Yen Restaurant
              2995 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

              King Dong
              2429 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

              3 Replies
              1. re: Mission
                bbulkow Apr 12, 2010 10:02 PM

                Kung Pao in china is typically made with a fairly dark meat, ground, and could be categorized as "weird, mucky, salty".

                I'm not excusing whatever was served to you, have never ordered CV's KPC, but it's kind of a shocking dish over there.

                1. re: bbulkow
                  PorkButt Apr 12, 2010 10:28 PM

                  The dish's full name in pinyin is gong bao ji ding where ji ding means chicken cubes. Never seen it with ground chicken in China.

                2. re: Mission
                  a
                  adk Apr 13, 2010 09:54 AM

                  Mission, I'm afraid some things have changed for the worst. A few months ago I had the great misfortune of getting the kung pao as takeout from King Dong. It was epically monstrously bad - little nuggets of chicken under a glowing neon-orange sauce whose bland and indigestion-inspiring monotony was broken only by the jalapeños which served as the vegetables. Stay away.

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                  King Dong
                  2429 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                3. myst Apr 12, 2010 03:23 PM

                  I used to love the one at King Tsin on Solano in Berkeley, but I have to admit I have not been there in several years. No breading and not sticky at all. They also had a very good chicken with wine sauce.

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                  King Tsin
                  1699 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94707

                  1. wolfe Apr 12, 2010 03:16 PM

                    Calalilly's DH likes Wuling but no description although yours sounds like many the kung paos I have seen.
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6662...
                    I think perhaps this one from Kirin Berkeley is closer to what you want.
                    Kirin’s spicy Kung Pao sauce coating diced chicken chunks, bell peppers, onions, roasted red-hot-peppers and peanuts.

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                    Wuling
                    10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: wolfe
                      w
                      whatwhat Apr 13, 2010 03:58 PM

                      I heard Wuling stopped serving food recently :(

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                      Wuling
                      10561 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                      1. re: whatwhat
                        tvr172 Apr 25, 2010 06:57 PM

                        Yes, there is a sign on the window stating they do not serve lunch and dinner anymore, but the karaoke is still being offered.

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