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Dine About Oakland: Shan Dong

November 20, 2009

I ♥ Shan Dong. That’s really the long and the short of it. The last few months have been extraordinarily busy on all fronts, and last weekend, I just did not want to cook (or clean, or paint, or weed, or do any of the other things I was supposed to be doing around the house). So when seven o’clock rolled around and D. started wondering what we could eat for dinner, I tried for a bye. “Umm, takeout?” Now I should note that 99.9 percent of the time when I try this, I get resistance. For the most part, we either cook at home or we eat out, and the money we save by cooking simple meals at home finances the next cocktails we get out. It’s a good little system—but every now and then, there’s a day when I just don’t have the energy to cook, let alone to motivate enough to go out somewhere. This was one of those days.

And this time, magically, it worked! We’re fortunate to have lots of great options nearby for takeout. But Saturday, I didn’t just want takeout—I wanted delivery. I wanted to be incredibly lame and lazy and curl up on the couch, watch a movie, and have someone bring me dinner. This limited our options considerably; there are only a handful of decent restaurants that deliver to our house (plethora of flyers that get left on the porch notwithstanding). There’s pizza: Lanesplitter, Rustica, or Pizza Pazza. There’s Indian from Raj on Piedmont. There’s Japanese from Sushiya on Broadway.

And then there’s Shan Dong. Shan Dong is a little restaurant in the heart of Oakland Chinatown that’s well worth a visit in person—over the years I’ve steered lots of friends in that direction and no one’s ever come back disappointed. But they also have a great delivery gig running if you’re lucky enough to live within a mile and a half of Chinatown (and we squeak in just under the wire with a tenth of a mile to spare!)

Officially, Shan Dong serves Northern Chinese (or Shandong) cuisine. In my mind, this is code for noodles and dumplings, since in northern China, wheat is the staple crop, rather than rice. The flavors and mix of vegetables are a bit different than in other Chinese cuisines more common in the United States, and there’s a much bigger fish presence on the menu. But the absolute best parts of Northern Chinese cuisine are the fried, steamed, and boiled breads in all their forms.

First: you want the handmade noodles. Just factor the dollar surcharge into the cost of the noodle dishes. You WANT them. I almost always get sesame noodles, but really any noodle dish on the menu turns into wonderful goodness when you add the handmade noodles. Shan Dong is also known for their dumplings. These are a bit better when you eat at the restaurant—steamed food in general doesn’t travel super well—but we always get the vegetarian dumplings anyway, because yum! (I also have friends who rave about the house special pork dumplings, though I have yet to try them.) I also often get mu shu vegetables because I have a mu shu obsession, and their version is especially tasty. (Mu shu is rumored to have originated in the Shandong region, and I think the pancakes Shan Dong serves put others to shame.) And they never forget the special sauces for each dish, always carefully packaged.

Since all that plus some stir-fried green beans or Chinese broccoli usually fills us up and then some, that’s generally my delivery order of choice. But when I’ve eaten with larger groups at the restaurant, I’ve also had sizzling rice soup, pot stickers, onion pancake (mmm…but no good for delivery, as I discovered once), fish in various forms, and assorted chicken dishes.

They’re not perfect. When we put our order in this time, we got an estimated wait time of 40 minutes, but the food didn’t actually show up for well over an hour. How easy it is to place an order depends very much on who answers the phone (and on how well you speak Mandarin!) But for a grand total of $40 including tax and tip, we got enough deliciousness for two big dinners with enough left over for four work lunches; you really can’t beat that. They also get points for our last order, when the woman asked me what kind of Chinese broccoli I wanted. I was at a loss, since usually I just order Chinese broccoli and something tasty shows up. “Umm, steamed?” I asked, guessing. “No, no, no, stir-fried,” she corrected. “Much better.” Okay. Stir-fried it was! (When I recounted the story to D. afterwards, he cringed. Apparently everyone knows that Chinese broccoli is supposed to be stir-fried…)

Shan Dong is also open for Chinese breakfast on the weekends, and one of these days I’ll make it there for that, because if the steamed buns and fry bread are as good as the dumplings and noodles, it’s going to be a treat. Until then, though, they remain my go-to rainy-day don’t-wanna-cook partner-in-crime.

Grade: A
Cost: $-$$

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