The Kitchen Sink 

Year of the Horse

The happy babies are pasted on windows all over Chinatown, and the stores are selling hell notes and noisemakers. The Year of the Horse has begun.

Every year, restaurants all over Oakland's Chinatown arrange special fixed-price menus to celebrate the New Year. This is the time to gather your family and friends to celebrate health, wealth, and happiness. For those of you who haven't ever eaten a Chinese banquet, it's quite a treat -- as long as you're not a vegetarian. For once, even rice fades to the back of the meal, bringing up the rear of a parade of meats and luxury items such as shark's fin and abalone.

Here's what three of Chinatown's most established upscale restaurants are offering:

During the week of February 11, Restaurant Peony (388 9th St., 510-286-8866) will be serving a "lucky meal." For $298, 10 people receive shark's fin soup, sautéed shrimp and scallops, suckling pig, vegetables, lobster, chicken in garlic sauce, steamed fish, and sticky rice, followed by a sweet red bean soup.

Old-school elegant, Silver Dragon (835 Webster, 510-893-3748) offers a six-person dinner for $128 and a ten-person dinner for $268. The meal for ten is much more interesting. Chef's appetizers are followed by shark's fin soup, honey walnuts with prawns, stir-fried scallops, dried oysters with sea moss, fried sea bass with roasted peppers, lobster, roasted squabs, yang chow fried rice, and lychees and "dragon eyes" (longan fruits) for dessert.

Jade Villa, Oakland's premier dim sum parlor (800 Broadway, 510-839-1688), has put together a number of New Year's banquets, from the inexpensive to the luxurious; all will be served until February 23. The $188 banquet for ten includes a cold appetizer plate (think barbecued octopus and jellyfish salad), sugar peas with fresh scallops, crispy-skin chicken, honey-walnut prawns, dried oyster soup with lobster, roast crab with garlic sauce, lychee spare ribs, steamed fresh fish, yang chow fried rice, and a Jade Villa special dessert.

If you've noticed that all the banquet prices end with an eight, that's because eight is a lucky number. The per-person price for the most elaborate of banquets doesn't surpass the tab for a three-course meal at many neighborhood bistros.

A few tips: Reserve your party at least a day in advance. People who don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese may find it easiest to visit the restaurant in person to ask questions about the menu or make a complicated reservation. Several of these menus are printed in Chinese only, and the person who answers the phone may have limited time or limited English.

Don't be afraid to eat like a horse. Happiness and prosperity to you all.


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