Random acts of Chinese food

Two different Chinese-food restaurant choices, two very different outcomes

Ocean King Seafood Restaurant
6035 Stockton Boulevard, (916) 422-8353
$10 - $20
Ocean King received a rating of 1 out of 5

New Station Restaurant
1800 Broadway, (916) 446-6688, www.new stationrestaurant.com
$10 - $20
New Station received a rating of 3 out of 5

Sacramento has many Chinese restaurants with very similar menus, and it can be hard to choose between them in the absence of a neighborhood or family favorite. This week, let’s consider two.

Ocean King Seafood Restaurant does not stand out from other Chinese restaurants on Stockton Boulevard in any way, except perhaps by looking a little worse for wear. In fact, it has the exact same three-and-half-star Yelp rating that two Chinese restaurants located close to it have. It is cavernous and largely empty on the night I dine there.

Our large group opts for a package meal. The honey-walnut prawns are a mayonnaise-coated monstrosity, but I guess it’s my bad for ordering the set meal that includes them. The spareribs on the bone are very similar to the sweet-salty Korean preparation. Are clams with black-bean sauce ever good? I’ve had them as dim sum and never found them to be so: The metric by which I judge them is more sand or less sand. The fish-maw-and-lobster soup has a maw-to-lobster ratio of 20:1 and is gloopy with cornstarch. The whole fried flounder is not from the nearby murky tanks but, rather, tastes as if it’s frozen and flown in from who knows where; plenty of white flesh but no panache—the same could be said of the whole chicken.

The two add-ons to the package deal are less phoned in. After ordering the water spinach, there is a spirited discussion at the table about which particular green will actually arrive.

Peking duck is one of those dishes that’s easy to make passably well but hard to hit out of the park. We’ll call this one a walk. The duck is meaty, the skin is moderately crispy, but the pancakes are doughy.

As we wait and wait for the server to bring our check, despite the absence of other customers, an awkward silence drifts over our group in place of exclamations of praise. The burbling of the fish tank seems to grow louder.

Elsewhere, on Broadway, the blinds at New Station Restaurant are always drawn, giving it a speakeasy kind of feel. From the outside it looks like the Flame Club of restaurants, but inside it’s cozy and warm—and often packed.

Hypothetically, if a woman were to have a hangover and be on deadline for a review, she could possibly have a lightning-bolt revelation that Chinese-American comfort dishes can rival a greasy American breakfast for best hangover food of all time.

The menu lists dishes such as frog and crispy goose intestines, but my hangover will suffer neither amphibian nor offal. Food snobbery be damned, sometimes chow mein is just necessary, and New Station’s is not too greasy, not too salty. Minced pork is accompanied by plump, snappy green beans in one dish. In another, the “fresh greens” with soft bean curd are simply broccoli, celery and bok choy; something a little more exotic might have been nice. The moo shu pork (a selection that’s inspired by a crossword answer from earlier in the day) is a mishmash of cabbage, tender pork, sproingy wood ear mushrooms and scallions, with transparent rice pancakes and tangy-sweet plum sauce on the side. The pile disappears quickly: I should always let The New York Times crossword lead the way when ordering.

The restorative green tea works its magic, and all is right with the world. Randomly picking two restaurants out of the hundreds in the greater Sacramento area yielded one with no reason in particular to recommend it and one that’s worthy of repeat visits. Maybe even the goose intestines if I go on the wagon.