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Empress Pavilion disappointment?

I ate there this past Sunday (11-27-06) and must admit to a bit of disappointment. We were there for about an hour, and several standards did not come by, including filled steamed broad rice noodles, taro pancakes, and zongzi (steamed wrapped glutinous rice) - though I did see the latter on a far off table as we were leaving. I also felt that the dumpling we did have were not adequately differentiated in taste, reflecting an inadequate use of ginger and other aromatics.

Two questions, then:

Do you share my disappoint with Empress or not? I'm interested in a good defense of this venerable dim sum venue.

What is an excellent alternative, even if a bit pricier?

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  1. never liked empress to begin with.....so i can say i share your views =)

    1. I used to go to Empress a lot with my family about 7-10 years ago. All I remembered was the horrible wait and the over crowdedness of the place. I recently went back to try it again with my bf about 6 months ago and realized not much has changed.

      We usually go to the Sam Woo Seafood Restaurant for dim sum. (If you don't mind going to San Gabriel) I like the food better here and they have specials of $1.90 for the smaller plates (haven't been there recently though so I don't know if they still have this special)

      Located at San Gabriel Square or also called Focus Plaza (because of the dept store here) The address is:

      140 W. Valley Blvd.
      San Gabriel, CA 91776

      To get to Sam Woo, you'll have to take the elevator to the top floor in the Focus department. Enjoy!

      1 Reply
      1. re: arisu

        fyi, sam woo in san gabriel closed a few months ago. supposedly the new capital (hong kong style seafood) was taking over the space

      2. Actually, there have been a series of posts this year suggesting that Empress Pavilion has gone downhill. Here are a couple of them.

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/319179

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/76795

        1 Reply
        1. re: UCLAW

          Gone downhill? It was never that good to begin with. We went once only more than 9 years ago. We waited an hour for the table, and the food was not great. Just remembered some mushy wrapping on the hargow. Never went back.

          The best dim sum places are around SGV, and to avoid disappointment and long waits for your favorite dim sum items, I suggest going to one that you place the order instead of grabbing from the cart. The food is fresher that way - no excuse for mushy wrapping, or fried items that's gone cold.

          The best of the lot is Sea Harbor on Rosemead, but any of the others like Mission 261, Triumphal Palace, New Concept, etc will run circles around Empress.

        2. Empress is probably the best there is in Chinatown.

          The best dim sum in Los Angeles has definitely migrated east to the SGV. Try places like 888, Ocean Star, Sea Harbour, Mission 261, Triumphal Palace.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ipsedixit

            I've quit going to Empress and haven't been there for several years, but I think CBS on Ord can rival Empress in Chinatown. Neither can come close to Trumphal Palace, New Concept, or others in SGV.

          2. Sorry to hear about your dissapointment in Empress Pavillion. I know that sometimes the cart with the items that you want don't come right away. It is always really busy there. We usually will ask the Dim Sum ladies pushing carts what we want and they have been good about hunting down the items for us.
            I still look forward to spending my Saturday mornings there.

            1. I'm always looking for dim sum and believe the Empress Pavilion continues to be one of the best (including the San Gabriel restaurants). I've been dining at Empress since it first opened (I believe they opened in 1989 or 1990) and over the years there have been many other dim sum restaurants that have come and gone. Many in the past have attempted to dethrone the Empress....do you remember Harbor Village or Shangrila. Yes some offered a more unque (and sometimes more tasty) array of dim sum selections than the Empress but the "proof is in the pudding"....they could not survive. That said when I dine at the latest buzz names in dim restaurants (New Concept, Triumphant Palace, Mission 261) is the dim sum truly better or are some of us unfairly penalizing the "tried and true" of the Empress' dim sum? BTW, I hear most of the buzz restaurants are really struggling to keep their doors open...so if there food is as good as reported, what's the problem? No question the Empress' look is in need of a facelift (definitely the bathrooms) and the service could be a little less impersonal but the consistency of the Empress' dim sum through all the years still gets my vote!

              2 Replies
              1. re: eatlotz

                Have you been to Empress recently? There were reports last year that they lost several of their key chefs.

                As for me, I think Empress Pavilion was okay the last time I went. But 888 and NBC have been consistently superior.

                1. re: eatlotz

                  In defense of the buzz restaurants, they have a lot stiffer competition out in SGV. At its location in downtown, Empress is just a "big fish" in a little pond. Based on my own experience there just a couple of months ago, I'd say the Empress would go belly up in SGV. That was one of my worst dim sum experiences ever. It was more about logistics than the food, which was for the most part passable but hardly noteworthy (and some of it wasn't even passable). I know some people have good experiences there, but that only means that the Empress is very inconsistent and consistency is one of the hallmarks of a great restaurant in my book. They've been around too long not to have a good lock on consistency.

                2. Agreed. Empress is terrible.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nimo

                    yep, i blacklisted the joint 4-5yrs ago.

                  2. My last time at Empress was only a couple of weeks ago and we were there for a Chinese clan New Years banquet, so I'm assuming lots of money went into it. There were probably 300 people there, with the full lion dancing and everything. I'd had pretty good success there for dim sum in the past, but rarely go for dinner.

                    (slight rant warning) Well, I probably won't be going back. Ever. I asked for ice water, and was handed a pitcher. I poured some into a glass and a large piece of bread or SOMETHING white about the size of a golf ball found its way into my glass. I took the pitcher to the closest waiter station and asked them to replace it and my glass and was told to "wait here." After 5 minutes, I told another waiter that I'd be at my table and pointed it out. Not only did I never receive water, I never received a replacement glass. I was stuck drinking lukewarm tea for most of the subpar meal (bland walnut shrimp, WAY too fatty duck, even for Chinese standards, and nasty mango jello, among other things) until I gave in and went to buy a beer at the bar near the door. I was told if I wanted to pay the $5.50 for a bottle of slightly chilled Sapporo with a credit card, I'd be charged tax as well (it ended up being about 5.94 or thereabouts). I was fine with that, but when I handed over my credit card, it was passed to a waiter to run at some other machine. I was left at the bar for what seemed like a good 6-7 minutes just waiting. I was a bit annoyed that a bar with NO other customers would take that long to return a card with a bill, but I chalked it up to the lousy service I get at 99% of Chinese restaurants.

                    It was just the culmination of a number of factors, aside from the above, that just pushed me over the edge. I'd been disappointed with the dim sum service before as well (to the point where my mom walked into the kitchen to complain to EVERYBODY...ahh Chinese relatives) and this was just the latest piece. I don't tell people to avoid it, but I certainly won't be handing over any more of my own money.

                    1. I've been going there (though not recently) since it opened. Some times it has been excellent and others were like garbage pail day. Once it was so bad, after having been great a few days before (that's why I went back the same week), that I really stopped going and I now maybe only go twice a year but it's usually because someone else wants to go - I never decide to go on my own.

                      http://myculinaryadventures.blogspot.com

                      1. Hit or miss, and last time I went (~2 years ago) it was such a severe miss that I vowed not to come back. With the inconvenience of Chinatown parking coupled with the excellence of other dim sum places, it's worth an extra ten minutes driving east.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: SauceSupreme

                          Inconsistency notwithstanding, difficulty of parking shouldn't be an issue at the Empress because there is validated parking in the multi-story lot right there at the building.

                        2. CBS Seafood on N. Spring St. in Chinatown has the best dim sum.
                          Empress Pavilion dim sum went downhill years ago and isn't worth the very long waits.

                          1. I share your disappointment with the Empress Pavilion as far as service and the varied selection but still believe the cooking is still relatively consistent. For reasons unclear to me, the service is generally better at the San Gabriel restaurants than the Chinatown ones. As far as selection at the Empress, there often seems to be a problem with the entire selection not being circulated through the entire dining room...it appears to be more of a lack of managment in the dining room and not so much what is coming out of the kitchen

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: eatlotz

                              Hi All,

                              I FINALLY made it to EP today after reading several up and down, good and bad posts about them. My overall assessment:

                              1) Good solid dim-sum: the best were the roast duck and shrimp chow fun; nothing we had was BAD, I must say

                              2) Decent main dishes: my parents enjoyed the sea cucumber and seafood noodle dishes; I kind of wished we tried some other types of dishes for variety though (too much of the same, but that was more OUR fault)

                              3) If you guys have had pork buns from the East Coast, the ones here will surprise you -- They are MUCH SWEETER in EP; my mom was kind of put off by that... an extremely sweet bun and sweet pork filling too; so this will depend on your taste buds or tolerance for sweetness

                              4) the only DOWNERS here for me:

                              a) they do not serve coffee at this place at all -- I know, you're wondering "Why does she want coffee at a dim-sum place anyway?" -- But for some reason, the eggs tarts and other desserts always taste so much better to me with a decent cup of coffee than with tea... just my opinion; and

                              b) Certain areas could have been cleaner (dirty windows, etc.) -- This can probably be a general thing for downtown Chinatown. I remember Ocean Seafood being even dirtier, and I did not like Ocean Seafood's food as much as EP overall; When I ate at Chinese restaurants in Rowland Heights, for example, I did not notice this cleanliness problem as much.

                              So, overall I was glad to finally try Empress after wondering why people seemed so drastically divided by it. I think for the downtown area, it is definitely the best choice. Just have your coffee elsewhere...

                              1. re: Liquid Sky

                                I agree - I've always had fine times at Empress Pavilion, and now that you mention it Chinatown does have an overall lack of cleanliness... Anyway I'd often stop there before a weekend daytime Dodger game, the parking structure is really easy and convenient, and the food is good, satisfying, and cheap.

                                1. re: Liquid Sky

                                  I agree with the consistency issues others have brought up. Sometimes Empress Pavilion is fantastic, and sometimes it's borderline mediocre. But I can say the same for the ballyhooed Ocean Star, which has served me stuff I've literally pushed away after one bite sometimes when I've been there. (I've actually left there a few times thinking, "I wish I'd gone to Empress Pavilion.") Empress Pavilion's selection could be broader, and, if I couldn't hop off the subway and walk there with ease, I'd likely find my way to the San Gabriel Valley more often instead. But it's convenient and reliable, so I'm happy to stick by it.

                              2. I've had mixed experiences at Empress, too. I've found that it makes a HUGE difference where you sit. You have to sit as close to the kitchen as you can. If the hostess tries to seat you on the far side of the restaurant, across the main aisle far away from the kitchen door, you must refuse the table and ask for one on the other side of the aisle. Ditto for tables at the far end of the room away from the windows. The service at the tables distant from the kitchen is FAR worse, both in terms of visits from the carts and table service from the wait staff. If you're sitting at one of these bad tables, fewer carts seem to make it to your table, and when they do finally arrive after stopping at every other table in the room, the food is not as fresh.

                                I have found that as long as I get a good table, I'm always satisfied.

                                I will say that I've enjoyed the food at 888 more than Empress, but I'm already driving from Woodland Hills to Chinatown, and I just don't want to drag myself all the way out to SGV very often.