Harmony in Mill Valley opens
They've been holding friends & fam tryouts but will be open for business tomorrow, Monday. What little food (dim sum and small plates) we had were tasty and well presented, but our server was veeery stingy with the offerings as if it would be deducted from his allowance! Wish we sat somewhere else so as to partake more of their dishes, but we'll check again in a month or so.
Good looking space, but bring your own reading light. BTW $$$$ - dimsum plates $4.50-$5.50 for reg serving.
Best Chinese food in Marin County, hands down, and possibly in the Bay area: freshest ingredients, and more sophisticated use of spices and sauces than your average American Chinese restaurant like CJ's that buries everything in sickly sweet, unnaturally orange-colored, cornstarch-laden sauces. We grew up in Taiwan and Hong Kong and can attest to the authenticity of many of the dishes at Harmony (though a few items like the Chinese chicken salad, fries and onion rings appear to be a bow to American tastes, and the stuffed eggplant dimsum, while delicious, is Texas-sized.) They have an uncommonly fine way with vegetables, outclassing some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong - maybe this has to do with their access to superior local produce, though this doesn't explain why other local Chinese restaurants can't get vegetables right. Their Harmony beef dish should be the model that restaurants like CJ's and Yank Sing aim for. (Yank Sing, incidentally, has been a big disappointment - everything either drowned in soy sauce or soaked in heavy oil. And the staff race around like nurses in an understaffed E.R., you're lucky if one of them pays any attention to you, you could actually walk out without paying and they'd probably not even notice.)
At Harmony you can actually taste the myriad flavors that you find in the best Cantonese, or Sichuan, or Shanghainese dishes, whereas at all these other places every dish tastes of only ONE ingredient - usually soy sauce, or oyster sauce, or black pepper sauce - and usually a very cheap brand. Steamed vegetables at Harmony remain crisp not soggy.
And the dim sum at Harmony is light, their dumplings do not sink to the bottom of your stomach like lead nor require excessive chewing.
Disappointments: yes, the prices are astronomically high (which prevents us from eating there more than once a week). When you order Peking duck you should not get one tiny little portion for this price. Are the rents so high at Strawberry Village that restaurants have to charge this much to turn a profit? The service has improved since they opened, and the staff are very friendly and helpful, though some are more knowledgeable about the cuisine than others. They could use a few more dessert options though the ones they have are fine - the egg tarts match the tastiness of those you find in Macau, the coconut rolls are a big favorite with kids, and the banana fritters are that perfect combination of light batter and dense filling - and none of these are cloyingly sweet or heavy like the bakery offerings in Chinatown.
Small nitpicks: Fried rice should be served in bowls, not on plates. Take-out items, with a few exceptions, tend to be a little wilted after sitting under glass for an hour. It's best to call in an order and pick it up while it's still fresh.
And finally, kudos to the staff who produced several dishes to meet the needs of a child who could not eat wheat, soy or gluten. We did not give them any advance warning but they were very accommodating, and the meal was as delicious as their regular menu.
Actually, there is another restaurant in Marin that started serving dim sum, but they've been surprisingly quiet about it. If our friends hadn't told us, we'd never have known. Pier 6 at 1559 4th Street at Shaver Street. It's a good alternative to House of Lee, in that they have a different selection and the food is a little less "oily" (although I like some kinds of dim sum down and dirty, if you know what I mean). There are things I prefer at House of Lee, and things I liked at Pier 6. I'd say try it and compare.
re: cyndi eisner
re: Melanie Wong
Yep, that's it. Since I was on that side of the bay (a report on Pier 15 to follow), I opted for Chinese instead of pizza for tonight.
I have never once felt Yank Sing was over-priced because of the quality. In fact I don't think I've blinked at any type of high-priced restaurant given the quality ...
Harmony made me blink.
I took a sample taste test of tonight's diner.
The dimsum dishes are $5.50 for a small ... small serving.
The best ... and the taste is fabulous ... but the price was still impossible to swallow ... pea shoot dumpling with organic shitake mushrooms.
This is the best thing I've had with pea shoots since I fell in love with pea shoots at Slanted Door's previous location.
The shitake's give it a little crunch ... there may also be some water chestnuts in there ... the flavor is so rich and wonderful ... BUT $5.50 I repeat ... for two ... yes TWO regular sized dumplings.
Same price for two half-dollar sized custard tarts. Yeah, won't buy these again. Super flakey and greasy isn't the right word, but there's an oiliness to them, not really in a bad way, just unusual. A thin smear of custard on top of this that was too sweet.
The BBQ pork bun ... which was steamed ... was three mini buns that were mainly bun. The "house made BBQ pork in a savory bbq sauce" was ok, just ok. It was overpowered by all that bun.
Main course is pork claypot - bbq pork, brussel sprouts, roasted butternut squash. Not too sure about this from the initial taste. The sauce is excellent and complex with garlic and fresh ginger. The bbq pork here just doesn't rock my food world. It is just ok and maybe too lean and there is some nice flavoring in it. The squash could have been just wok-tossed because there was no evidant flavor of roasting. Brussel sprouts are al dente and fresh and there were some nice big black mushrooms in there which was the best thing in the dish. $9.75 for a serving that is going to be pushing it for the two of us.
Cart service is on the weekends only for lunch. There are about 26 dim sum items that are sketched on the menu.
There is also a regular menu, decent looking tea, some interesting beer and maybe wine.
Bunrab mentioned the chili wok-tossed onion rings and my order finally came so the last thing I copied down was the minced lamb in radichio cups.
They ran out of copies of the regular menu, but from the dim sum menu here are some different (I'm guessing) dim sum items:
- crispy won ton stuffed with avocado, cream cheese and a touch of curry
- Harmony spring roll with avacado, Italian sweet onions and sun dried tomatoes
- Imperial potsticker with pork, cabbage and Hawaiian ginger
- Phoenix prawns with shrimp mousse and dipped in light cilantro batter
- Shrimp toast crostini filled with shrimp mousse
I don't know, maybe the entertainment value alone was worth the stop
Beers were seemed more interesting than the wine: white ale from Japan, Hitachino pale ale, Hue beer from Vietnam, Shingo lager from Boon Rawd Brewery, Bangkok.
Wines: Hague cellars gewrztrammer, Trefetan Riesling. Other labels are Dry Creek, Landmark, Taft St, Howel Mountain, Justin and Robert Talbert.
Teas are $2.50 and include at this time: Jasmine, poh nay, herbal (lychee, rosebud and chrysanthemum), Yunan and plain crystanthemum.
Bunrab shouldn't be worried about the business. It seems at this point reservations are required. It took a half hour to get my order.
The to-go section isn't open yet, but you can still order off the menu for take-out.
The decor is all tan and black though not as depressing as Slanted Door ... there's a little more Harmony, so to speak, in the decor. As Bunrab said it is muted and sort of comforthable.
The staff is pleasant and helpful but they are seem to be having a bit of opening confusion. I gotta say I was a little put off when I asked if I could get a pot of tea while I waited for take-out and they said the tables were all taken ... yet I could see a few tables that remained empty during my entire wait ... there were at least 20 empty chairs. The front desk was a little scattered and the phone kept ringing off the hook.
Here's the website for future reference. As of this posting it is still under construction.
re: Melanie Wong
And no rice. Didn't rock my world like Vanessi's or some of the wonderful clay pots I've had at Slanted Door. I'm still slowly working on my post above, check back in a few minutes for more ... I'll throw this out just for the benefit of Gary Soup ... the sesame balls have plantains in them.
My thoughts (unexpressed because I was there before it offically opened) was that it was obscenely expensive for what it was. In fact, I was reluctant to report because it had just opened. Thank you for substantiating my first impressions-- the taste is there, but really not worth the cost. House of Lee is starting to look better, and for sure, dimsum-wise, North Bay Seafood is sorely missed in these here parts!
House of Lee (on 4th St in San Rafael) is where I go to satisfy my dim sum impulses. Prices have been nudging upwards, but the typical item is not far from $2. The place has zero ambiance, but that's part of the cheap Chinese thing. It was also the ONLY place in Marin to get dim sum AFAIK, until Harmony came along to satisfy a non-existent demand for overpriced dumplings.
re: Melanie Wong
Don't think you have checked the prices at YANK SING lately?! We eat there 6 or more times a month and and have for 15 years! There are VERY FEW items on dim sum carts for $5.50---and the portions have diminished even further in the past 12 months-foil wrapped chicken thighs now cut in half---filling in the "signature dish" is half the size it was a year ago, baked sea bass is cut by 33-50% since first presented, and the cost of noodles with only onions is nearly $16.!! Outrageous but worth the price. The little guy with the glasses in the Dining Room who walks around and grunts has got to get out of the front of the house! He is an afront to the customer service! A real bean counter personality--definitely back of the house personality! After the friendliness of the wait staff and front desk reservationists he is a real pain!
I found HARMONY to be of greater value than Yank Sing! Prices are 30% less than Yank Sing! with LARGE portions. Comparing Harmony to Yank Sing is apples to oranges! Harmony has many more entrees and vegetable dishes, with larger portions! Granted $11. for green beans seems a bit over the top, but feel it is a great value for quality food! The quality and presentation was terrific! The service still needs a boost---(like how about the bus boy refilling water glasses without being asked three times!) The prawns, chicken, chow mein, pea pods, har kow, chicken and vegetable dumplings, egg rolls, and lamb cups were outstanding and moderately priced for quality of food! Maybe you should give it another try now that they have been open for 4 months!
re: foodie gourmet
I didn't find Harmony in the same class as Yank Sing. I would need to see a whole lot of positive reports to return. I have NEVER blinked at thr prices at Yank Sing because the quality was fair value for what I ate. I blinked A LOT at Harmony ... even though it is more convenient to me.
The size of the egg custard tarts was offensive for the price ... mini custard for $2.25? I hope to see other uphilll reports. It would be easier for me to get to. The only thing I will give them the benefit of doubt is service. When I went, they had just opened. Give me a good rec and the positive report will follow.
How is the take-out? Do you have specific items to recommend? I NEVER enjoy giving a negative report and I might give them a try based on specific recs. However, I don't have bucks to throw away frivously.