708 Franklin Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Out of the ashes of the former Legendary Palace is the newly opened Cinnamon Tree. Like the former tenant in this space, Cinnamon Tree is a large Cantonese seafood house serving carts of dim sum at lunch and more upscale Cantonese seafood fare at dinner. Given that I liked eating dim sum at Legendary Palace before, with its decent dim sum at reasonable prices, I was excited for the new Cinnamon Tree to open up, bringing back neighborhood competition in the dim sum/seafood scene in Oakland Chinatown.
I went last week on a whim for lunch. I arrived at the restaurant a little after 1:15PM at the place was still bustling with business. Thankfully I was seated immediately and the carts started rolling by. Within a few minutes I got the following items:
- Shrimp Dumpling – Pretty good overall with fresh shrimp and a wrapper that wasn’t too gummy or dry. Like the vast majority of dim sum places in America, however (even at great ones like Elite) there was too much filling for the wrapper meaning that the skin and filling got detached relatively easily. Also interesting was the use of medium size and baby shrimp.
- Siu Mai w/ Crab Roe – These were alright with fresh wonton skins and a juicy pork filling. However, the filling was also a little denser than I liked making it too chewy, a sign that it was probably steaming in the cart too long
- Bitter Melon and Shredded Chicken Rice Noodle Roll – Good news: I couldn’t taste much bitterness in the bitter melon! Bad news: It was likely because it was way overcooked steaming in the cart. While the rice noodles retained the moisture and texture well, the filling was overcooked, drying out, and unappetizing
- Stir Fried Sweet Rice – That said, I did love the sticky rice which was steaming hot out of the kitchen and very flavorful with diced Chinese sausage, bits of egg, and diced mushrooms. Probably one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had.
- Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce – The Chinese broccoli was blanched and lightly stir fried pretty well. The stalks were tender enough to chew on without being too soft. It was nice to have the oyster sauce on the side instead of the usual lumpy sauce mess when it’s drizzled on haphazardly at other places.
Service was nice and efficient. While some on Yelp talk about the lack of service, if anything I found some of the wait staff hawking dim sum to be a little too pushy. The chair covers were also a bit weird with a stretchy material that never allowed you to sit as properly or comfortably as you wanted in the chair.
All in all, however, I found Cinnamon Tree pretty decent. On the plus side are the larger and more innovative menu items than you would find at rival Peony a few blocks away. However, the continued use of carts instead of revamping into a menu order place means that items fresh out of the kitchen are done well but those sitting on carts are suffering from overcooking. It’s probably the clearest example to date from a restaurant on way menu ordered dim sum is preferable to the old cart style.
While the food can be hit or miss, I do find the opening of Cinnamon Tree to be a good thing overall. Competition against Peony is a good thing to hopefully make both restaurants better. Additionally the restaurant’s busy lunch services still shows that Oakland Chinatown is still vibrant, at least during the daytime hours.