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Dim Sum in LA?

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if not winter Jun 2, 2007 10:31 PM

I'll be in LA for work next week, and my colleague has never had Dim Sum ... any suggestions for a place that'll make her a convert? Thanks.

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    bulavinaka RE: if not winter Jun 2, 2007 10:54 PM

    Sea Harbour in Rosemead... their bucking for the Gold medal in dim sum for the SGV... we just went last Monday - the space is neat and smart for a dim sum house, the service is sharp and attentive, the tanks displaying the live seafood actually have the appearance of better-kept aquariums - not like the typical death chambers at most dim sum joints - and the food is spectacular. The one caviat is the ordering is done from a menu and checklist. No carts with ladies encouraging you to try their dishes will be had here. With that in mind, if you order in stages, you'd be better off instead of trying to order just about everything at once. Certain dishes - steamed dumplings in particular - have a very short lifespan upon being served. Deep-fried foods also fall into this category of tempermental but exquisite delectables. Did I mention that the food was spectacular? You will find that most things dim sum that you find an affinity with have been stepped up a knotch or two in flavor, presentation, or detail. I found the eggplant stuffed with shrimp paste to be my standout dish, but just about everything else we ate kept getting oohs and ahhs. Even the venerable Phoenix Claws (fancy name for chicken feet) is not squishy and loose like most places, but more firm and meaty that takes to one's skills with the chopsticks and some gnawing that only can be considered to be acceptable in a dim sum joint. Another dish not to be missed is their fried banana dessert. Worth the wait, all skeptics of banana will find it hard to believe that something so seemingly simple could taste so good...

    Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
    3939 Rosemead Blvd
    Rosemead, CA 91770
    626-288-3939

    7 Replies
    1. re: bulavinaka
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      Chelmoon RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 10:48 AM

      One question might be the extent ambience is a factor in your choice. And by ambience I don't mean white tablecloths and subdued lighting. Rather I mean the feeling that you've been transported into a dining hall thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. If that's part of the equation, I'd recommend Ocean Star in Monterey Park, as it holds almost a thousand diners, is usually pretty full for lunchtime dim sum, and the dim sum is served off of circulating carts. While Sea Harbour does produce the best dim sum, it's relatively small and food is ordered off the menu, and as such is less of a total experience.

      1. re: barcelona
        b
        bulavinaka RE: barcelona Jun 3, 2007 12:57 PM

        If your assumption of my post only had credibility backed up for where to head for the best dim sum, I might think twice about your assessment of me if I were another poster who was somewhat experienced in our town's dim sum...

        I've lived in LA all of my life, have tried dim sum from West LA to Gardena, to Chinatown, to various parts of the SGV, and my unsponsored assessment is that Sea Harbour has some of the best dim sum offered right now of all the places I've tried. If you've gone to some of the other dim sum houses, you'll know what I mean when I refer to the holding tanks... And yes, the carts are a part of the dim sum tradition, but you will find that the places currently offering dim sum by menu are at least a knotch above the long- visited dim sum joints like NBC and Ocean Star in terms of quality and presentation. I don't feel the Chinatown dim sum places even approach places like Ocean Star, let alone Sea Harbour or Mission 261.

        Yes, Ocean Star has the feel of a huge Hong Kong dim sum house, with its bussling carts, massive interior dressed up in ornate fixtures, and the hum of a thousand diners relishing great har gow while slurping down tea and enjoying great conversation. A friend from Hong Kong totally feels in his element when the crowds are large and the noise is high - the frenetic interaction reminds him of home, like a bee with its peers in a busy hive. Ocean Star is great for that type of experience. Personally, I am usually not in the mood to fight crowds, from entering the labrynth parking structure to queueing for what seems like a meal's worth of time. I am more than happy to pay a little more for a dim sum experience that is all about the food. Order from the menu in stages, enjoy each offering, and conversing in a more subdued atmosphere. I recommend you try Sea Harbour, or for that matter any dim sum house that is at least half-respected in the SGV. Half-respected in a place like Monterey Park would make them dynastic in Chinatown.

        PS - I work in Venice - no dim sum houses to be found around here...

        1. re: bulavinaka
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          Chelmoon RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 03:56 PM

          Oooops. Sorry, but I just noticed that I was intending to reply to the original poster and certainly was not at all questioning your recommendation for dim sum. Forgive my mistake.

          1. re: Chelmoon
            b
            bulavinaka RE: Chelmoon Jun 3, 2007 10:12 PM

            Hey Chelmoon, sorry I didn't clarify who my response was too... the intended respondee's post vanished as I was writing... your info is solid and appreciated... :)

          2. re: bulavinaka
            Woolsey RE: bulavinaka Jun 3, 2007 05:37 PM

            I can't speak for the likes of Sea Habour, which is now on my list of destinations, but as for Ocean Star, I think its prime selling point is on variety, not necessarily quality. The run-of-the-mill dim sum items - the pork bao, the har gow, the shu mai - didn't strike me as all that superior to the items one finds at the vilified Empress Pavilion or even the dumpier joints like Won Kok. That's not to say it wasn't very good; it was just very good in the same way everyone else's is. What put Ocean Star on a different level was the great variety of items. Often at Empress Pavilion, one can wait twenty minutes or more as cart after cart of bland meatballs and dumplings parades by until something novel approaches, but it was a rare sight to see something pass by more than once at Ocean Star. And never did one see something like shark's fin soup on the Chinatown carts.

            The flip side is, there tend to be more unpleasant items for the gwai lo in Monterey Park: more seafood with the face still on, and asking for the "sticky rice" one gets in Chinatown will land you a different (and really awful) dish at Ocean Star that's akin to a gigantic bland rice tamale. (It took me several visits to learn to ask for Five Treasure Rice or Lucky Treasure Rice or something like that.)

            I'm very keen on trying the table service dim sum houses because, as yet, I've not seen an appreciable difference from the cart service houses I've gone to - except in variety. They all have good days and bad days, and there are good times to go, when there are more options and the freshest offereings, and bad times, where the early diners are offered the slim picking of gloppy, resteamed leftovers from the day before or what few lukewarm items are left at the end of the service.

            Wherever you go, I find that, at the cart service places, the optimum time for most variety, best food quality, and quickest seating is about 10:30 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. on a weekend morning.

            1. re: bulavinaka
              Pei RE: bulavinaka Jun 4, 2007 02:41 PM

              Seeing as how I totally agree with you that Sea Harbor is fantastic, would you suggest that I still give Mission 261 a try? It seems like you really like it too.

              I like Sea Harbor and 888 Seafood the best, followed by Hong Kong Palace (is that Pan Xi in Chinese?) in Rowland Heights, but have never made it to Mission 261.

              1. re: Pei
                b
                bulavinaka RE: Pei Jun 4, 2007 08:01 PM

                The service at Mission 261 was superior during our last visit, and some of the dishes looked like jewels when compared to other dim sum places - alot of attention is given to presentation. But compared to Sea Harbour, there's something I feel is at Mission 261 - it's like comparing the XLB's of Din Tai Fung vs. Mei Long. As Din Tai Fung's are perfect in appearance, are practically bursting with soup, and watching them being made is almost like foreplay, they lack the soul of the XLB's at Mei Long. The same seems to be the case at Mission 261 - it just seems maybe a little too well-contrived. Having a special event like a wedding reception or other big celebration would be great at Mission 261 - their size and service could easily accomodate it, and I don't think anyone who enjoys dim sum would complain - I would easily go back if someone wanted to try them out. Mission 261 is first rate. But given a choice, if it's all about the food, and you're going with a small group of folks who appreciate great dim sum, I personally would prefer Sea Harbour.

        2. ipsedixit RE: if not winter Jun 3, 2007 09:13 PM

          This is a pretty well tread topic on the LA boards.

          Dim sum is pretty much divided into "cart" and "off-the-menu" restaurants.

          Lots and lots (and I mean LOTS) of places that are good to visit in San Gabriel Valley (or as is abbreviated here, SGV). Too many to many mention without running the risk of omitting a solid contender.

          Do a search with the words "dim sum" and you'll get these results.
          http://www.chowhound.com/search?item_...

          Do a little reading and judge for yourself what places best suits your needs.

          Good luck and enjoy.

          1. raytamsgv RE: if not winter Jun 4, 2007 11:03 AM

            Would it be correct to assume that you'll be taking your colleague out for dim sum on the weekend? If so, you have a whole list of dim sum places from which to choose. I may be a bit heretical here, but amongst the top-flight dim sum places, in terms of food, the difference between them isn't all that great. Yes, some are better than others, but you can't go wrong with any of those choices.

            However, there are significant differences in the noise level (i.e. loud, very loud, and unbearbly loud), parking, decor, wait times, number of patrons, etc. What specifically do you have in mind?

            Finally, if you are thinking about dim sum during the week, it would be important to consider the drive times. If you're working in West L.A., going to the SGV for dim sum may not be a workable option for you.

            1. schmamo RE: if not winter Jul 5, 2007 11:25 AM

              I too have this question, but only for Chinatown options (which I know many of you do not prefer, but I work downtown and am taking a friend to lunch). It seems Ocean has had mixed reviews, as has EP. I have only been to the latter, and would go again, but want to try something different if others think a different restaurant is better... Many of the posts re: chinatown dim sum are several years old. I need the current stats! Thanks :-)

              10 Replies
              1. re: schmamo
                Chandavkl RE: schmamo Jul 5, 2007 12:51 PM

                At this point your best bet in Chinatown might be CBS Seafood.

                1. re: schmamo
                  m
                  mlgb RE: schmamo Jul 5, 2007 01:39 PM

                  Ditto on CBS. Get there before noon. I think you can take one of the DASH lines.

                  1. re: mlgb
                    schmamo RE: mlgb Jul 5, 2007 03:24 PM

                    from the sounds of it, i know where to head next. thanks guys!

                  2. re: schmamo
                    Das Ubergeek RE: schmamo Jul 5, 2007 02:15 PM

                    I just came from Empress Pavilion -- like, half an hour ago -- and it has improved markedly but it's still not to the level of the "usual cart-style suspects" in the SGV -- NBC, 888, Ocean Star, Sam Woo. EP was so bad a couple of years ago that I swore that time would be the last time... but we went today and it was quite passable.

                    The problems: we were there for an hour and a half and the lo bak go (turnip cake) cart never came by -- the daan taat (egg custard tarts) were slightly underdone -- the lai wong bao (steamed yellow cream buns) were way, way, way too sweet. On the other hand, the har gao were absolutely fantastic, there was a mango-and-shrimp fried item that was almost transcendent, and the gai lan is still the best one out there.

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek
                      schmamo RE: Das Ubergeek Jul 5, 2007 03:23 PM

                      oddly enough, we ended up there too...at the same time you, btw! sorry for stealing your turnip cake ;-) my friend had never had dim sum before and is now completely sold on it...especially the sesame seed sweet balls (sorry, i have no idea what their proper name is!)

                      1. re: schmamo
                        Das Ubergeek RE: schmamo Jul 5, 2007 03:53 PM

                        I wonder if you were the party sitting next to us... close to the kitchen door, which is always the best place to sit at cart-style dim sum! Those sesame balls with lotus seed paste (sometimes they have red bean paste) inside are called "jin dui".

                        EP has a takeout section as well -- if you walk from the parking stairs past the main entrance, it's on the wall next to one of those schlock shops that sells "decorating needs".

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
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                          ozhead RE: Das Ubergeek Jul 6, 2007 09:11 AM

                          A few days ago my son was (for reasons it would take too long to explain) in Hong Kong. He was staying in one of those "guest house" arrangements on Nathan Road in Kowloon, where a number of the buildings have large dim sum establishments on one or more floors. (Indeed, he told me in an email that he and his friends were trying to decide among SIX dim sum restaurants on SIX consecutive floors of the same building -- he said it was strange to step off the elevator at each floor and see a restaurant of exactly the same shape as the one above or below it, but decorated differently. A kind of Chinese deja vu, I guess).

                          Anyway, he told me they decided on one and had a great meal; the operative point, he said, was that it showed him that the Empress in Chinatown was -- at least by comparison -- pretty dang authentic, assuming that giant Nathan Road dim sum restaurants themselves qualify as authentic. Which I suspect they do.

                          1. re: ozhead
                            Das Ubergeek RE: ozhead Jul 6, 2007 11:24 AM

                            Depends on where you go -- Nathan Road is a huge long street that runs from TST all the way out to Prince Edward and Yau Ma Tei. There are authentic places (Fook Lam Moon) and tourist traps.

                            I feel very "at home" in HK yum cha houses -- though most authentic places (including my favourite which is actually in Tsing Yi) are now menu-style so they can replace the cart pathways with more paying tables :)

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek
                              raytamsgv RE: Das Ubergeek Jul 6, 2007 01:58 PM

                              There isn't that much of a difference between the HK dim sum places and the big ones in the SGV. The language, food, and decor are virtually identical except my American-accented Cantonese stands out just a bit more there.

                              1. re: raytamsgv
                                Das Ubergeek RE: raytamsgv Jul 6, 2007 02:29 PM

                                And I get strange looks when I ask for "lai wong baau" instead of "nai wong baau".

                  3. f
                    foodmonster RE: if not winter Jul 5, 2007 01:28 PM

                    NBC is my favorite, Ocean Star is also solid. Both in Monterey Park.

                    Never been to Sea Harbour, but it sounds great. How's the prices though? I've eaten feasts at NBC and only paid $10 flat.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: foodmonster
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                      Fru RE: foodmonster Jul 5, 2007 01:56 PM

                      I have not seen Triumphal Palace mentioned lately. It is on Main Street in Alhambra. How do people feel about it? I've been there and Mission 261 and like both. However, I'm still a die hard cart fan. After going to lots and lots of places, my favorite is still Ocean Star. I've lived in the SF & SGVs all of my life (47) and have been eating dim sum for probably close to 40 years starting at places in LA that no longer exist, (Miriwa & Man Fook Low). That being said, I really, really want to try Sea Harbor.

                      1. re: Fru
                        e
                        Ernie RE: Fru Jul 6, 2007 11:52 AM

                        I have enjoyed TP for dim sum on a couple of occasions and grew up in Monterey Park so familiar with the choices in the area for many years. They have excellent pie gwat (little pork ribs with black bean sauce) and the house specialty crispy chicken wings are very addictive

                    2. d
                      debra RE: if not winter Jul 5, 2007 02:45 PM

                      I'm taking my Aunts to Dim Sum in SGV on sunday --they LOVE dim sum, but are totally put off it it doesn't have an "A" rating. It's totally psychological with them, and I don't know if I can just call a restaurant and ask, do you have an "A"? I was just wondering if anyone happens to recall the ratings at some of the places, like 888 or Sea Harbour? I'm dying to try both of them, our stand by is ABC in chinatown. But last time I took the Aunts, they did not enjoy themselves because it had a "B". I still enjoyed it, but Sunday is about the Aunts. Any help would be appreciated.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: debra
                        Chandavkl RE: debra Jul 5, 2007 03:03 PM

                        Can't think of a dim sum place that has an "A" rating. I know that ABC has had an "A" at times, which I find stunning. As the L. A. Times pointed out in a long article a couple of years ago there really isn't a level playing field in these gradings because Chinese restaurants often have a much wider selection of menu items requiring a much greater variety of ingredients, which doesn't fit into the food handling and storage requirements mandated by the grading system. In this regard, a "B" rating at a large Chinese dim sum palace is actually a good score.

                        1. re: debra
                          Das Ubergeek RE: debra Jul 5, 2007 03:54 PM

                          Honestly, there might not be -- the fact of the matter is that the sheer number of ingredients and stations required to make dim sum mean that things sit out longer than the Food Police think they should -- but you can look up any restaurant's rating at http://lapublichealth.org/rating and spare yourself the embarrassment.

                          FWIW, I've never even had indigestion after eating dim sum at one of the popular places... but of the few I just checked, only Mission 261 has an "A"... I checked N B C, ABC, and 888.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek
                            d
                            debra RE: Das Ubergeek Jul 6, 2007 09:58 AM

                            Thanks guys this is all really helpful info.

                        2. f
                          foodmonster RE: if not winter Jul 7, 2007 12:30 PM

                          Just checking again--can anyone comment on the prices at Sea Harbour? Is it ultra-cheap like NBC?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: foodmonster
                            Chandavkl RE: foodmonster Jul 7, 2007 02:49 PM

                            Definitely not. You get what you pay for.

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