Peking Inn
330 N. Lantana St., #31, Camarillo
987-8188
$5-20
www.pekinginnrestaurant.com


You can’t control cravings any more than you can control what goes into your peanuts. So it was that at noon on a Saturday, I was struck by a debilitating craving: I needed Chinese food. On the hunt for something out of the ordinary, Camarillo’s Peking Inn came to mind, and before I knew it we were plopped down in the middle of a lunchtime dim sum rush.

I’ve never had a traditional dim sum experience, and I know that saying that might disqualify me from talking about it. I’ve always wanted to have one, though, so I’m glad to have had a local joint as my first.

Dim sum is small plates of various dishes served hot from a cart that moves from table to table. On a Saturday, Peking Inn was busy with a lunch rush, undoubtedly there for the aforementioned specialty.

Vegetarian Sweet & Sour Pork

Vegetarian Sweet & Sour Pork

We sat in the dining room and were at first taken aback by how dark it was compared to the bright, sunny day we had just retreated from. The second thing we noticed was the exotic décor – muted pink vinyl booths matched ornate wall hangings and sleek table settings. More than a few waiters milled around, attending to the many tables full of diners.

We were asked if we’d like to see the dim sum cart and of course we said yes. A waiter pushed the mobile tray to our table and, because we’re dim sum newbs, we asked what was available. Chicken shu mai, pork bao, pot stickers and even steamed chicken feet, displayed from inside their home in small metal steam baskets, were enticing — but, for full disclosure, I only eat fish or shellfish and my wife is vegan. Nothing on the tray was vegan-friendly.

Which was fine, because Peking Inn offers a full menu of dim sum items one can order from, including steamed bao (large, soft and fluffy dumplings, $6.95) with lotus seed paste, and a so-called “chives cake” ($7.25), both of which we ordered. We also ordered our mains, and were surprised to find that the lunch specials were also offered on weekends, which is rare anywhere in the county.

I chose the Peking Shrimp ($9.95) with egg drop soup and fried rice. Looking over the extensive list of vegetarian-friendly entrees, my wife chose the oxymoron known as Vegetarian Sweet & Sour Pork ($12.75), which, unfortunately, isn’t available as a lunch special and instead can only be ordered from the much larger-portioned dinner menu.

One odd moment came when we tried to order a side of fried rice, and asked if it was egg-free, our waitress told us that it was not and that it was all made in the morning. Not exactly something you want to hear about a dish that shouldn’t take long to make fresh.

The Peking Shrimp turned out to be a sweet and spicy fried dish, similar to General Tso’s with a little bit of an extra kick. Tossed with water chestnuts and green onions, it was done well and, being a big fan of the sweet and spicy combo, I appreciated it. The egg drop soup I could have skipped, and the fried rice I picked at cautiously. Our Vegetarian Sweet & Sour Pork was a nice surprise, utilizing what we assumed was the vegan’s secret ingredient — TVP, textured vegetable protein. Fried and coated with a nice sweet sauce with chunks of pineapple and bell pepper tossed in, the “pork” was a hit.

Pan-fried chive cakes

Pan-fried chive cakes

Our dim sum arrived after the main courses, a small penalty for not choosing the fresh items off the cart. As they were each freshly made, the bao and the chive cakes were stunning in their presentation, appearing almost too precious to eat. Sadly, the chive pancake was not only stuffed with chive but egg as well, and so I had it all to myself (not a bad thing).

The bao made for the perfect end to our meal, as they became the unexpected dessert course. Ripping open one of the warm steamed buns revealed a brown paste inside, the lotus seed filling. Sweet and slightly savory, I undoubtedly showed myself novice by dipping the bun into the sauce from my Peking Shrimp. Sue me.

Peking Inn surprised us in many ways, but it should come as no surprise as to why it was busy midday on a Saturday. We’ll be back just as soon as the next craving hits.