Old Weang Ping, Oakland CA
So many times we drove by this building, wondering what lies within. The ornate bargeboards representative of serpents definitely stand out on MacArthur Blvd. Our research, and a subsequent craving for Thai, prompted us to finally make our way to Old Weang Ping. Once past the barred exterior, walking to the restaurant is a moment for contemplation and peace, like following a path through a jungle towards a monastery.
August ordered a standard Thai iced tea, which had a good ratio of tea to cream (unknown if it’s condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, or regular milk, but it was tasty). A surprising touch was that the water poured at every table was mixed with a hint of tea, giving it a light golden vanilla flavor.
From the appetizer section we ordered the chicken satay, and we overheard many other tables ordering it, also. No wonder it’s a favorite. The chicken was moist and tangy with a nice char. The pieces were cut into perfect bite-size portions, with enough flat edge to pile on the peanut sauce. The sauce was rich and creamy, both sweet and savory, making this a plate that was lip-smacking and left us wanting more.
Admittedly, we got Barbarian soup because of the name. There’s no description on the menu, but we were offered a choice of meat; the owner and his server traded off in assisting us, but it was the owner who recommended we try this with beef. The beef was tender, but nearly overshadowed by the mix of vegetables, herbs, and spices. Broccoli, tomato, Thai basil, mushroom, and chili combined for a strong and complex flavor symphony, highlighted by bright spices that made the soup fairly picante. The owner said it wasn’t spicy, but for people who detest spiciness, this would be spicy. For those who thrive on the burn, this would be mild. Diners who appreciate a little heat will really like the warmth of the spices here, so it’s like the three bears’ porridge – just right.
The soft, tender noodles of the pad thai were sweet and tangy, as they themselves not just were coated in the traditional sauce, but soaked it up as well. Rich throughout, the flavors of the sauce (and noodles) made the succulent shrimp taste even sweeter. The shrimp were juicy and, Zach says, “cooked perfectly.” August liked the skin on the spiced tofu, savory and just a little chewy. Fresh, crunchy onions and bean sprouts helped to break up the texture of the most widely recognized Thai dish.
A special for the evening was pompano fish, something entirely new for both of us. We learned there are around twenty varieties of pompano so we don’t know exactly what we ate, but it was good. The meat was very moist and flaky, and with few bones, it was easy to extract large mouthfuls of flesh. As much as the “not spicy” Barbarian soup was spicy, this fish with “spicy sauces” was more spiced than hot. The sauce reminded us of a very flavorful oyster sauce, and it complemented every one of the fruits and vegetables in the saute. Tomato, pineapple, onion, mushroom, carrot, and ginger were not the anticipated mix of vegetables, but worked together seamlessly. Trust us, a bite of carrot, mushroom, and pineapple in this sauce is better than you’d think.
By mistake we got the roasted duck with pumpkin from the special menu instead the roasted duck with massaman curry that we ordered, but that’s alright because we actually really enjoyed the duck with pumpkin and other unexpected ingredients. The fowl was far from foul, as it was moist and very tender. It swam in a deep-flavored and savory broth with exotic spices, and there was plenty of broth to spoon over the excellent sticky rice (not pictured in this article). Pineapple, bamboo shoots, pumpkin, and Thai basil reflect a broad spectrum of vegetation and, while it’s a combination that never would have occurred to us on our own, we’re so glad that someone here put it together and we got to try it. Zach wants to add that he is sensitive to curry, but it was very mild in this dish and he had no reaction to it.
Be prepared when you come, and we say “when” because there should be no “if.” First, there is no parking lot in this primarily residential neighborhood, so you may need to parallel park on the street. Second, due to security, it is highly recommended that you call ahead to make a reservation or call within minutes of arriving so that someone will unlock the door for you (the number is 510-430-8771). Third, only cash is accepted, but if you don’t have enough on you, there is an ATM inside the gas station convenience store just up the block. Fourth, don’t be surprised by a soundtrack that clashes with the ambiance – we listened to Nat King Cole tonight. With all that in mind, enjoy a meal at this sanctuary and savor the delights for all five senses.