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"I could've been a contender" ... and other thoughts about TOP ISLAND dim sum

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Finally found some time to try the dim sum at TOP ISLAND.

The entire experience was utterly disappointing, which to me just means that people will flock to any place that offers food that is easy on the 401K, but hard on the tastebuds. This can only be the explanation for the crowds at this place.

The baos were stuffed (with miniscule amounts) of tasteless filling -- that were also too dry. The baos themselves were also too dry, which leads one to wonder ... were these things steamed, baked or (heaven forbid) zapped by your favorite Panasonic Microwave?

The dumplings? Where to begin. We asked for a tray of veggie dumplings, but the dish had both chicken and beef dumplings. Huh? Confusion aside, I've had better chicken from McNuggets and the beef? Remember the Wendy's commercial with the little old lady from the 80s ... "where's the beef"?

One of my favorite dishes, chinese broccoli with hoison/oyster sauce nearly shattered my teeth. The stalks were so tough it reminded me of those childhood memories of gnawing on sugarcane stalks. And the leafy part? So sinewy, I used up probably a whole box of toothpicks to extricate all that fiber from my teeth.

Equally sad were the spareribs (oily and tough), noodles (gluey), congee (well, ok, it's only rice so how bad could it be, right? don't ask).

Even dessert was a letdown. As a fan of all things egg custard, I could not have walked away more disgusted from Top Island's version. It tasted like it was left under a heat lamp for so long that it was better suited for an archaeologist than a diner.

Which brings me back to that great line by Brando from "On the Water Front" ...

"You don't understand. I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody instead of a bum, which I am."

Yeah, indeed, a bum you are.

TOP ISLAND
740 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra,
(626) 300-9898.

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  1. How does this place compare to New Capital Seafood?

    I went for dinner, and it was pretty decent seafood for the price. Maybe their dim sum chef is no good...

    1 Reply
    1. re: WHills

      Never been to New Capital for dinner, and only once for dim sum (the Rosemead location).

      Not really impressed (or disappointed). Assembly-line approach to dim sum. Get it out, get it out quick, charge under $2.00 for each dish, shuffle the masses through the doors, so it's all about turnover and turnover ... it's ok if that's your deal, but I prefer a bit more refinement to my dim sum experience.

    2. Thanks for the review. Sorry you had to endure such torture. I remember chewing on sugercane, too.

      6 Replies
      1. re: raytamsgv

        Now if I can only find sugarcane here in LA ...

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I believe Bahn Mi Che Cali offers fresh-pressed sugar cane juice, so I'm sure you could probably just buy the sugar cane from them.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            It is sold occasionally at the Asian veggie stands at the Farmer's Market in West LA, perhaps at others.

            1. re: sasha1

              Yup! I saw some LONG ones in the Diamond Bar FM this weekend..

              --Dommy!

              1. re: Dommy

                they sell it at the asian market in echo park. they also have banh mi there by the way. i forgot where it is exactly...

                1. re: modernist

                  There's also this couple that presses fresh cane juice at the Hollywood Farmer's market on Sundays and at the Echo Park Farmer's market on Laveta just south of Sunset on Friday afternoons/early evenings. Yum!

        2. I have no idea where this is but you've done the honorable duty of checking off one less place i have to eat in SGV.

          1 Reply
          1. re: eatdrinknbmerry

            A bad dim sum experience spared is a chowhound saved ...

            Cheers.

          2. Sounds horrible, but you write so well about it. :)

            1. We had the unfortunate experience of going there for dinner.. not any better than your dim sum experience. Probably the only good thing was that the portions weren't all that big, but I could not understand why the place is so crowded. Not all that fresh-tasting and it didn't taste very good, either. This was a couple of months ago so I can't remember exactly what we had but I wouldn't go back there. There are much better places in the area.

              1. i cruised by this place with my family on memorial day... 45 minute wait. we turned around and went to elite on atlantic. 40 minute wait. double backed and went to the place next to the 99 ranch on atlantic and garvey. 20 minute wait. bit the bullet and it was pretty mediocre.

                triumphal palace or bust. failing that, nbc or ocean star i... guess, even though i'm tired of the same old same old.

                1. "Could have been a contender"? Sounds like this place didn't have much of a chance to be a contender from the start. From the ads I've seen they are all about price, not emphasizing quality. Some people like to eat cheap food over places that focus on quality ingredients (which are often more expensive).

                  Fortunately, there are quite a few good Dim Sum places in the SGV. I like to try them all and stick with the ones I think are the best. I think most restaurants are pretty mediocre. The average pizza joint, hamburger stand, noodle shop etc. is usually just that, average.

                  I used to have to travel all over the country on business and I always counted my blessings to live in LA. I think LA has the best ethnic dining of any city. Granted, there are some other favorite eating towns (Austin, Seattle, New York, Chicago etc.), but LA has such a wide variety. Most cities would kill to have one good Dim Sum restaurant and I can think of a handful that are really amazing.

                  1. Absolutely awful place. Hope it burns down

                    1. Thanks for the warning! Deleted from my to-try list. I don't like New Capital either. I guess it's crowded for the same reason mediocre chain restaurants are crowed...