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Dim Sum Disappointment at Sea Harbour in Rosemead...

Since I drive from the Westside to SGV for my dim sum fix, I am always eager to avoid any bad dim sum experiences, but in the interest of culinary exploration I managed to tear myself away from NBC to give Sea Harbour in Rosemead the ol' college try. After all, it's SGV. How bad can dim sum get in SGV? Especially at a place like Sea Harbour whose merits abound in glorious praise from numerous CH's.

When I walked in, I was pleased with the physical nuances of the resaurant and this gave me great hope. The ambience far surpasses any other "authentic" Cantonese place I've been to. I especially appreciated the lighting and dishware. They clearly had put more thought into the aura of the place than your usual Chinese haunt, and for me a little of that can go a long way. Regardless, the food still comes first. I really, really, really, wanted to like this place. I was a bit thrown off by the lack of any English-speaking staff, and my expectations of "English-speaking" in such establishments are not high at all. I do know how to get by in some Cantonese food-speak, but some of the dishes were unfamiliar to me, so I had to avail myself of the staff. We ordered a sticky rice in lotus leaf concoction. From what I remembered about this dish, it usually comes with some sort of minced pork or chicken inside, but the menu didn't state this and I wanted to confirm with the manager who walked by our table before ordering. When I pointed to the picture and asked what was inside and repeated the question several times, he struggled with "meat". I proceeded to ask what kind of meat, and he was clearly at a loss. He started with several different utterances and I decided to put him out of his misery and quickly ran down the basics. "Chicken??" He shook his head no. "Pork???" He nodded his head vigorously and replied "pork". Believe it or not, he actually fared better in mustering up an English reply than any of his staff.

On to the food.....I liked that the sticky rice came in 3 individually wrapped pieces instead of one big lump. This was our first dish. In general I am not crazy about this dish. I rarely order it and didn't have much to compare it to, but it was a decent start that showed promise for what was to come.....BUT, all that promise did was set me up for a precipitous fall. The shu mai was a strange, whitish color and rubbery. The har gouw looked so much better than it tasted. The morsels were bright orange and white and delectably plump and nearly burst at the edges. It was a cruel trick because when I sunk my teeth into the darn things, all I can say is that something was missing. There were whole shrimps inside. Now, I am not one to generally complain about whole fat shrimps, but har gouw filling to me is ground up shrimp (sometimes with various other things added in) and this is what gives its bouncy agglomerated texture. When I bit into these, the whole shrimps just sort of fell apart. It wouldn't have been so bad but the things just didn't taste very good. They tasted, well, really "ocean-y" if that makes any sense at all. I don't remember much about the skin of the har gouw, but I do recall not being impressed. It was too dense or something. It didn't have that pillowy effect against my teeth. The biggest disappointment was the har cheung fun. The wrapping looked dried up like somebody had pumped up the cheung fun and then let the air out of them and left them to shrivel in exposure. They looked like wrinkled sacks of shrimp (which again had a powerful "ocean" taste). The wrapping provided none of the playful, glutinous fun I expect from this dish and the sauce was overly savory in my opinion and lacked that hint of sweet aftertaste. The biggest surprise was that they don't offer pan friend turnip cake, only the steamed kind. That was a first for me, and I've been to many dim sum places! We tried the steamed variety and I can say without hesitation that the fried kind is superior. The center of the steamed one hadn't quite set yet and it lacked the blackened, smoky, crispy skin of the fried version. I was ready for the experience to be over but hoped that our final dish of eggplant topped with shrimp paste could save the day. After all it isn't a stretch to say that a restaurant is as good as its last dish. Let me just say though that it was par for the course. They call it shrimp paste, but it's more paste than shrimp. Nothing about the topping smacked of shrimp (in stark contrast to the overly powerful taste of the shrimp in the cheung fun and har gouw). Even the color was off. The paste was the color of, well, paste. It was bland and gray and tasted, well, bland and gray. I didn't care much for the denseness of the eggplant either, but that could just be a personal preference thing since I don't think I've ever eaten Asian eggplant before, and this is perhaps how they come.

All in all, it was a huge letdown. I can say that the ambience, service, and decor went a long way in not making the whole experience a huge bust. I'm glad I went and got to know first hand what everyone raves about. I really must be missing something. I went back to NBC the next day and can roundly say that every dish was far superior to Sea Harbour. Could it be me?? Are patrons perhaps just taken in by the clean and bright neatness and detail of Sea Harbor as opposed to judging it solely on the taste of the food??? Say it ain't so, cause I expect a lot more from my fellow chowhounds. It sure was busy that day, so Sea Harbour obviously has its loyal fans, but I can't count myself among them. Next up, 888......

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  1. Wow - that dark cloud came out of nowhere... Sorry to hear about your seemingly horrid experience at Sea Harbour. Our last visit there was quite the opposite - clear skies and a great dim sum experience. And my standout dish was the eggplant - fluffy creamy eggplant with its top stuffed with a blush pink shrimp paste... It sounds like some of the things you didn't like because of personal preferences, but If you were dissatisfied with any of the dishes in terms of freshness, I would have sent it back...

    Your great experiences at NBC are my black clouds, based on my last three visits there... there were certain dishes where the chicken's taste reminded me of a bleach-based cleaner - they were inedible. We haven't been back since. We figured three times and the same result is more than enough to convince us that something was not right...

    1 Reply
    1. re: bulavinaka

      I'm with bulavinaka on this one, but I can understand why NBC and Sea Harbor are both still alive and kicking. NBC is solidly grounded in the old school dim sum world; Sea Harbor is an LA pioneer in nouveau dim sum. There are plusses and minuses to each, but personally I prefer Sea Harbor (though it is unbelievably annoying of them not to have pan fried daikon cake).

    2. Sorry to hear about your experience. I haven't eaten at Sea Harbour for years, but my wife has recently and commented that while the food was just not what she had expected because it was dimsum that was different from what she was used to. She thought it was expensive for what she had eaten, but said she would try it again more for the novelty of different riffs on dimsum. She's from Hong Kong and says that NBC has the closest Hong Kong Cantonese flavor of any of the dimsum she's had in L.A. so far, which includes the biggies like Elite, Triumph Palace, Kitchen, and Mission 261.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cfylong

        I can completely appreciate your wife's point on NBC. I had enjoyed their dim sum for years... But in my mind, while attempted to duplicate a cuisine to its original authenticity has its merits, I personally appreciate the level to which places like Sea Harbour have taken Southern California dim sum. This in itself says alot. Maybe with NYC and SFO being vaguely in the same epicurian hemisphere for dim sum, I think that the places you mention like Elite, Triumphal Palace, etc., bring a note to fine dining in Chinese cuisine that will be challanged only by places in Asia. To me, NBC has the soul of so many things Cantonese, but its style has been idling for decades. I think many in the SGV felt the need to focus on the aspect of style, on finer dining - the missing piece to the puzzle that would complete the picture for this ritual of eating enjoyment. Its almost like a fitting tribute to a complex and varied cuisine that deserves much much more praise and respect.

        I can only hope that the OP's horrible experience at Sea Harbour is an abberation with a generous sprinkling of personal preference... to have alot of style and no soul would leave us with alot of dreams unfulfilled...

        1. re: bulavinaka

          I wouldn't classify my experience there as horrible, per se. Overall, I thought it was mediocre. Nevertheless, the only thing that I thought could've been related to personal preference was the eggplant itself, since I'm accustomed to traditional western eggplant. I believe everything else I wrote was a fair assessment though completely unrelated to personal preference. True, I'm kind of take or leave it on the sticky rice in lotus leaf, but in all honestly it was probably the most well-executed dish I had that day at Sea Harbour oddly enough. It's still possible that it was just one of those days, because truthfully I've had bad to mediocre experiences at both NBC and Ocean Star, which generally have solid offerings of their dim sum menu in my experience. I used to go to Ocean Star all the time and they never faltered until I took visiting relatives there one day and every single dish we ordered was godawful. It was so traumatic I never went back despite my previously delectable visits there. So, I guess I'd say I'm on the fence about Sea Harbour, but disappointed this time for sure.

      2. I think the other hounds have hit the nail on the head. When you go to a place like Sea Harbour, Elite, Mission 261 etc., you go for the nontraditional dim sum items that are delicate and made with interesting ingredients. Indeed, I wouldn't think about ordering too many traditional items at these places because it is unlikely that they would be worth the premium you have to pay.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chandavkl

          I thought I had an interesting, novel experience at Sea Harbour, not necessarily a good one though, and if I go again, I won't even be able to re-capture the novelty (which rescued me the first time), so I'm a bit averse to trying it again. Sometimes, different is just different and not better (like the steamed daikon/turnip cake, HUGE thumbs down). I don't know. I still think that any dim sum place worth its salt should be able to pull off the traditional items, at least passably anyway; otherwise why even bother with them? I really wasn't turned off by the price point too much. I was turned off by the taste.

          What types of interesting dishes at Sea Harbour are you referring to, Chandavkl???

          1. re: hch_nguyen

            Sometimes I don't remember what I ate where, but at Sea Harbour I seem to recall abalone tofu skin, minced beef with fried egg, some kind of peanut dessert and shark fin dumpling in broth. Never had anything like these at Ocean Star or NBC.

        2. I think the problem is your expectation is different. For one, good har gow is normally made with bigger pieces of shrimp (normally I expect about 1+ shrimp, split in half), not minced shrimp. Minced shrimp is cheaper. If you want minced shrimp you will fare better with places that sells fried shrimp balls or shrimp paste coated crab claws.

          Don't know about cheng fun, as chinese ones are kind of different than the vietnamese ones. Maybe that's why you think they are 'wrinkly'. The wrapping isn't supposed to be overly thick, or chewy either. It's supposed to be tender and soft, with a slight elasticity. The soy sauce mixture on top is a little bit sweet, but primarily it's soy, so has to be more savory.

          They do have pan fried turnip cake, but I believe they are cut into smaller pieces and tossed with XO sauce and served on a fried noodle nest. I haven't ordered that for a while, and I don't really like their version anyway. For the best turnip cake I like the cheapo Yum Cha Cafe (my standard is soft, with chunks of turnip and good preserved meat flavor).

          Anyway, sorry you are disappointed. We all judges food differently, in my case it fits the good standard of Hong Kong style dim sum.

          5 Replies
          1. re: notmartha

            notmartha, I know what you mean by cheaper minced shrimp in the har gouw. I've had that kind, too, and I don't like it and this is decidely not what I was looking for or expected at Sea Harbor. I generally expect a very rough grind, but at Sea Harbour they were whole shrimps stuffed in a white skin, not ground and not split in half. They just took the shrimp and stuffed it in there. I'm not sure what you meant about my expectations being different. If you mean that my expectations were more traditional, then I guess maybe you're right. I still say that as far as taste goes, good is good, mediocre is mediocre, and bad is bad regardless of tradition or expectation.

            As for cheung fun, with most respectful regards of course, I am Vietnamese, but I don't think I gave the impression that I was comparing dim sum cheung fun to Vietnamese cheung fun. In fact, I don't even care for Vietnamese cheung fun and would take the Cantonese-style over the Viet style any day of the week. This is not intended to sound snippy, so please don't take offense. I think I've eaten cheung fun at enough dim sum places in enough cities to make a fair comparison without letting memories of Vietnamese cheung fun cloud my judgment. Plus, I really don't even think of the two dishes in the same vein. It's like comparing a New-York Style/Chinese-American eggroll to a deep fried Vietnamese Imperial roll (cha gio). There are some superficial similarities (both stuffed, deep-fried rolls), but they're two very distinct culinary entities. These cheung fun at Sea Harbor were shriveled, dry, and wrinkly, which really surprised me considering the amount of turnover they must have there. They were not tender, soft, or elastic as you very aptly put it. I'm not sure where I implied that I wanted or expected something thick or chewy because I certainly would've been displeased with anything of the sort. Now that I think of it, I've always found Vietnamese cheung fun to be extra thin and wrinkly. So, if I were looking to compare it to Vietnamese-style, Sea Harbour's version would have made a favorable impression and not a bad one. As for sweet and savory soy, that's exactly how I like it, savory with a hint of sweetness in the after taste, but there was no after taste.

            I didn't notice the pan-fried turnip cake you mentioned. There aren't any English descriptions, and I had a really hard time communicating with the staff. Although he was friendly, the manager could barely handle "pork", much less "smaller pieces and tossed with XO sauce and served on a fried noodle nest". It does sound worth a try though.

            I'm still glad I went. I still felt like it was a worthwhile experience just for the newness of it all and I liked their digs. I doubt it's enough to make me go back any time soon, but maybe one day....They have their fans, so they're doing something right. I just haven't figured out what it is yet. Maybe one day I will....

            1. re: hch_nguyen

              Hmm, I've always had whole shrimp in har gow, every place I've gone to. I've never had minced shrimp.

              1. re: hch_nguyen

                No, no offense taken and no offense meant. Just wasn't sure what you expected out of cheng fun. I didn't realize when you said shivel you meant dry. A lot times the noodles are thin so they kind of blanketed/draped the shrimp, I thought that's what you meant. It should never be dry. It's interesting though because I've never had dry/shiveled cheng fun in any of the dim sum places in my life (even the cheapo places), and I won't expect it at a cook to order place. Plus steaming has the opposite effect on noodles - most of the time the error is steaming too long and the noodle is soggle/wet/falls apart/mushy.

                I guess I can't comment on the language barrier as I do speak cantonese and can read Chinese, so that's never a problem for me. I did notice the problem with translation to English in a few dim sum places, not just Sea Harbour.

                Funny enough I saw a complaint about Yum Cha Cafe is that their har gow is made of ground/minced shrimp. I've never had minced shrimp (even rough ones) in har gows in any of the higher end dim sum places. Generally the more upscale/expensive the place the bigger the shrimp. That goes for shrimps used in har gow, cheng fun, stirred fried noodles, etc.

                1. re: notmartha

                  Go figure, that cheung fun didn't seem oversteamed. It seemed like it had been sitting around a while, which is quite odd for the turnover rate. To me, minced and a rough grind are totally different from each other. While they're similar, I wouldn't use them interchangeably at all in a description. To me the phrase "roughly minced" is an oxymoron. Minced is, by definition, an extremely fine grind. Regardless, even a "rough grind" (a phrase I used previously) is a bit of an overstatement to the way I like har gouw. I'm not even sure I would call it a grind at all, but I definitely don't expect whole shrimps, however, so that took me by surprise at Sea Harbour.

                2. re: hch_nguyen

                  Hey HCH, I don't know if you have any folks to go with who are fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese - usually either will work. Being that my wife is fluent in both, working out the subtlties at Chinese restaurants for me is never an issue - unless my wife makes a powder room run precisely at the time when the waitstaff appears ready for our order - then me, the blithering idiot blurts out, "sorry - more time, please..." In theory, I know it shouldn't be an excuse for any restaurant not to be able to communicate with its diners, but in reality, this is often the case in SGV. Our last visit to Sea Harbour was amazing, but as I scanned the tables and the line out front, not one non-Chinese was present except for me and our friends-in-tow. With that said, I think there can be alot that is lost in translation - literally. Not that this backtracks and makes your experience better, but I would think future experiences here and elsewhere (at least at the places less visited by "outsiders") in SGV might be better if you're lucky enough to have someone along who can work out some of the issues...

              2. Sorry to hear about your experience (esp. since I a long time fan of Sea Harbour).

                Sometimes an old shoes just fits better than a new one ...


                1. That is a very disappointing report about the shrimp cheung fun. That is my favorite dimsum dish and my yardstick measurement for dim sum places. If they don't do a good shrimp cheung fun, then they'll never get near the top of my list.

                  As for the shrimp paste, it's supposed to be gray. Mostly gray with a pink tint. But that stuff sure isn't bland. I have a jar of Thai shrimp paste at home which is completely different from the Chinese kind, maybe you're used to other types of Asian shrimp pastes?

                  I still haven't tried Sea Harbour as I'm not a big fan of menu ordering. But it's on my to-try list and I'm hoping to get there soon.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: slacker

                    Well I'll be curious to hear your report, slacker, on the dim sum at Sea Harbour, especially if you use cheung fun as your yardstick. Your description of shrimp paste as "mostly gray with a pink tint" is in stark contrast to bulvinaka's above, who states that it was "blush pink" at Sea Harbour, which would sound right to me. As far as taste goes, I expect something that at least tastes like shrimp.

                    1. re: hch_nguyen

                      I guess everyone sees colors differently, but Chinese shrimp paste is pretty gray. I believe the shrimp is fermented, so it's pungent, and won't taste like fresh shrimp.

                      1. re: slacker

                        I wouldn't have minded pungent, although I've had shrimp paste at other Chinese places that wasn't pungent/fermented. This one at Sea Harbour was spongy, gray, and bland tasting to my buds.

                      2. re: hch_nguyen

                        The shrimp paste on the eggplant dish was in the direction of a soft fish paste in texture, and the flavor reminded me of delicate steamed shrimp... I don't think gray was the primary color. I just remembered the subtle pink contrasting well with the dark eggplant. My assumption was that they blended minced shrimp with the paste - fish or shrimp, I don't know - but it was my favorite of the meal...

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          The eggplant dish is my favorite as well, and in the 10+ times I've ordered it, it was never gray. Usually it's kind of on the white/pink side, and covered with a savory-sweet but very faintly spicy sauce. But I eat it more for the eggplant than the shrimp paste; I just love the texture of the soft but not mushy eggplant. The paste tend to have some starchy stuff there to hold it together, and taste more like fish cake than the stuff in the shrimp balls or stuffed crab claws elsewhere.

                          Don't know - maybe they have an off day. We generally go on Saturday mornings, just before the crowds.

                          Forgot to mention - if you don't like whole shrimp in har gow you will be disappointed in Mission 261, Triumph Palace, The Kitchen. They all have whole shrimps in them.

                          1. re: notmartha

                            A very typical home cooking cantonese dish used to be steamed pork with shrimp paste. The saltiness and flavor of the shrimp paste would go well with eggplant too. Growing up, it was always a little weird to see the grayishness in the paste, but I guess it's pink enough.

                            1. re: slacker

                              I think maybe we are all tossing around the term, "shrimp paste," with some having the true meaning which refers to the salty gray stuff (?), and a paste made up of shrimp that has been minced and probably mixed in with a fish paste with starch in it. The dollop of paste on the eggplant is somewhat like fishcake with a fair amount of minced shrimp blended into it (my assumption). Anywhooo, it was damn good when I had it - the fluffy creamy eggplant, the nice light paste of minced shrimp, and the brown sauce to pull it all together...

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                That fresh shrimp paste is very commonly used to stuff green peppers with also, and it really doesn't taste much like shrimp. The way Sea Harbour does it is not different than any other dim sum places I've been to.

                                I guess if one is expecting a strong shrimp flavor it's definitely not there. I never thought it strange because that's the way I had it all my life. Guess it's a case of lost in translation.

                    2. Sorry to hear about your negative experience at Sea Harbour. I visited the Rosemead location for the first time a few months ago (I visited the Rowland Heights location a couple of years ago before it became Happy Harbour), and it was such a good experience that it's moved to the top of my list.

                      The cheung fun is one of my favorite dim sum dishes (these are the 3 rice noodles wrapped around either BBQ pork, beef, or shrimp, stacked up on top of each other like a pyramid, with sweet soy sauce drizzled on top), and I always try to order it every time I eat dim sum. I seem to recall it being pretty good when I ordered it. If it seemed dry, perhaps it may have been overcooked, and maybe they forgot to pour the soy sauce on top. I prefer the BBQ pork versions, while my brother loves the shrimp one, but we both eat all of them. :-)

                      As for most har gow, the best ones have the full-sized shrimp in them, and even if the skin falls apart, these are usually the best ones to eat, from my experience. The worst ones tend to be ones that have cooled off in the dim sum carts, and the skin becomes tough and chewy. When the skin is light, and the steam is coming out of the shrimp, those are the best ones.

                      Everyone will have different experiences at every single dim sum house. Many people rave about Ocean Star, NBC Seafood, and Capital Seafood being among the best dim sum places, but my personal experiences at those places have been just good to average. I will likely go back at some point again, to confirm or change my opinions of those places. Hopefully, you will visit Sea Harbour again at some point in the future to see whether your experience was the norm or just a fluke.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Wonginator

                        The cheung gun dishes - we also ordered both - was excellent in our case as well. Served just as you mention, the waitress drizzled they soy-sauce based dressing on top as she presented it to us. I prefer the bbq pork as well - the mix of cilantro is perfect with the dice. We kept deferring the dishes to each other, fully well knowing that if they made one full trip around the lazy-susan, no more polite gestures would be expected in offering tastes to everyone. We just ordered one more of each and everyone ended up getting their fill.

                        We ate at Capital the day before going to Sea Harbour. We enjoyed it - classic Monterey Park dim sum at full throttle. I think you're knowledged enough to know what to expect. It's not fine dining, but the food more than speaks for itself. I've mentioned this in other posts about SGV - it's so easy to get somewhat jaded about the vast offerings in this area. I've tried to appreciate most of these places for what they do well. I've come to tire of certain places for not showing the effort to at least innovate a little, or bring up their game in certain areas. But at day's end, I feel so lucky to have enough great choices to where I probably could eat great food at every meal at a different place each time all year long...

                      2. I haven't been to Sea Harbour in a bit but it has always been very good and very interesting. Maybe they just had an off day. My wife and I took a few friends to Ocean Star on Lunar New Year (usually the Dim Sum place we bring novices) and it was terrible. I chalked it up to a bad day (holiday) and would go back anytime. Sea Harbour really does have a consistently interesting selection.

                        I like places that can do interesting things with Dim Sum but I also like places that can take the common dishes and make them more interesting. The Baked BBQ Pork Buns are better at The Kitchen than anywhere else (the filling has more taste and is a little 'chunkier'). I think the Har Gow at Sea Harbour are really good and the shrimp (not minced) taste really fresh. I thought the quality of the ingredients at Elite were very good.

                        I would give Sea Harbour another chance.

                        1. I just want to comment on your concept of what makes for a good har gow. I can't imagine anyone complaining about whole shrimp, but I guess that's your standard. I'll just say you are the only one I know who'd complain that it's whole shrimp and not ground up shrimp. Usually, 99% of the people I know, complain if it's the other way around.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: PeterL

                            I get very ticked off if my har gow is filled with ground shrimp.

                            1. re: PeterL

                              i'm in the 99% group you speak of. =)

                            2. Sorry to hear that you don't like Sea Harbour. I actually fly out to LA from NY a few years ago just to eat their dim sum; their Har Gaw with whole shrimp is my favorite! I guess it's just a matter of differences in opinion on what's "good" vs "not good". I agree with the other guys that, in Chinese cuisine, the use of whole shrimp in Har Gaw is the "gourmet" thing to do, but it's not for everyone. Just like some people prefer pizza from Little Caesar made from machine-made, pre-cooked, pre-frozen shell than a pizza made from hand-made dough and cooked in a wood-burning oven. Most people will pick the hand-made pizza dough as the "gourmet" one but it doesn't mean people who like Little Caesar's pizzas are wrong in any way. It just means they have different taste and that's all good. You should stick with what you like because you make the ultimate decision to spend your money and you need to make yourself happy first! If you do not enjoy the food at Sea Harbour, you can always try the other places you prefer. What you have described is pretty typical of Sea Harbour's dim sum items (except the dried up cheung fun) so it's probably not going to be different than what you got the last time.

                              1. i havent read all the responses but the way you describe the hargow, i like the description of the sea harbor one better. in fact. i've been to both nbc (old school cheap dim sum) and sea harbor (high end vancouver-ish dim sum). while i like both types, i generally like sea harbor better. everything is fresh. i havent been for dim sum in a while but i recently had a fancy dinner banquet (lobster, sharks fin soup in a whole papaya, raw geoduck) the food was amazing but likely very expensive as well. we also ordered buddah jumps over the wall but they got the order wrong and it never came... bummer!

                                1. Well that's the whole thing about Sea Harbour. Nothing really tasted or looked all that fresh to me to be quite honest, and in reality, I probably wouldn't have minded the whole shrimps in the har gouw thing (and might grow to like it), but the taste was just off. As I said in my OP, it tasted too "ocean-y" for lack of a better term. For example some fish are fishier than others, and this shrimp was very "shrimp-y"???? Aaargh, normally my powers of verbal expression are much more on point than this, but well...you guys get the idea.

                                  bearmi: I don't want to debate the gourmet connotation of ground vs. whole shrimp in har gouw, but I think that analogizing NBC's version to Little Caesar's is a bit of a stretch, although I know you were just trying to make a point that all opinions are valid and not necessarily analogizing the two. To my taste, NBC uses quality shrimp (not "watered-down" paste or other ancillary ingredients to mask poor quality) and the rough grind (or whatever) gives it a nice textural complement for me, but admittedly I am much pickier about texture than the average person if you know my posts, except I am picky when things reek of "ocean" (ugh that word again....), in this case shrimp. Plus, that steamed turnip cake was just highfalutin' IMHO and not gourmet. Give me fried turnip cake any day.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: hch_nguyen

                                    When you say "ocean-y", do you mean briny?

                                    1. re: mrhooks

                                      I guess you could say briny. That is definitely an improvement over "ocean-y", lol...but I'm not sure it captures the true essence of what I'm trying to say. It wasn't exactly salty. For example, some species of fish are just naturally "fishier" tasting without necessarily being brinier per se. It is inherent to the taste of the that fish's flesh. Oh well.....you get the picture.

                                      1. re: hch_nguyen

                                        I went to Seafood Harbour about a month ago and everything was very good with the exception of the durian dim sum which was a big disappointment. I didn't notice any "fishy" taste of the shrimp which is usually indicative of old shrimp, or shrimp starting to go bad. I do hope you give it another try as I think it's well worth it.

                                        Here's my review with pics:


                                  2. Sounds like the OP went in with a lot of preconceptions about how certain dishes should taste, based on personal experience. I think it's best to approach a place like Sea Harbour, especially if it's first time, with a blank slate and see it as an opportunity to conceptually reassess things -- such as what is or isn't har gow?

                                    Personally, I think Sea Harbour is a great asset, and I feel lucky to live so close to it. Sure, it's different from trad dim sum, but once you get away from orthodoxy and just appreciate the freshness and precise execution of ideas, you'll enjoy it that much more.

                                    It's one of those places where, whether or not you find it agreeable to your personal taste, there's not denying that the dishes are executed just as they intended them to be.

                                    I have yet to have a bad experience there, and their har gow is my favorite out of the major LA dim sum restaurants. A whole shrimp is usually what I expect, also!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: kiwonyoon

                                      Again, I don't think my preconceived notions came into play all that much. I am fairly savvy when it comes to dim sum and actually very open-minded chow-wise and try new things and restaurants all the time. I've had dim sum in lots of different restaurants, in different cities, states and countries, and everyone, at the very least, does things just a little bit differently. To be honest, I think Sea Harbour had poor execution that day. The steamed turnip cake was not even set properly on the inside. It was more like turnip jello than cake. Is this how it was intended to be? I guess I don't know since I've never had steamed turnip cake anywhere, but my bet is that they understeamed it. I can tell you for sure I don't think it was very good. The eggplant with shrimp paste was our last dish and we ended up having to wait a solid 15 minutes between that and the time we were already done with every other dish already, which was a serious killjoy for me. We thought about just canceling it. Plus, those cheung fun were decidely NOT fresh either. If that's how they look on a good day, then I would definitely not go back to Sea Harbour, not for their cheung fun anyway. I'm chalking it all up to an off day. I'll never know unless I go back, which I see myself doing one day, but not any time soon, not with all the other places out there that merit a try, too. I remember looking at somebody's pix on here of their dim sum experience at Sea Harbour and remarking to myself while I ate that none of our dishes resembled the CH's in quality or appeal.

                                      1. re: hch_nguyen

                                        Have you tried dim sum at Triumphal Palace? If not, it's a good point of comparison with Sea Harbour. The steamed turnip cake there is very good. The texture is almost like a mousse or thick custard, with bits of pork. Steamed vs. fried is just apples vs. oranges. You're not going to get steamed turnip to "set properly" by steaming it even more. They also have a baked turnip dish you might be interested in: pastry-like crispy shell filled with gooey turnip. Very good, but again, different texture, consistency, and flavor, and not much point trying to reference it back to fried turnip cakes you might get at NBC or 888.

                                        1. re: hch_nguyen

                                          Yeah.. I agree with kiwonyoon. That soft gel-like texture is what a "contemporary" steamed turnip cake should taste. I believe I have had it at a few places in Taipei and also at Koi Palace in SF Bay area. From your responses, I gathered you probably prefer the more traditional dim sum places rather than the "contemporary" type like Sea Harbour. In reality, very few places in North America serve "contemporary" dim sum like Sea Harbour (I have not seen any in the US other than in LA and SF, there is Dim Sum Go Go in NYC but it's not even close to any of the ones in Calif) so chances are most of your dim sum experiences are with the more traditional type (nothing wrong with that.. they are popular with a lot of Chinese Americans, including myself). If that's the case, you probably won't quite like the way food is done at Sea Harbour.

                                          As far as the long wait was concerned, I believe most of Sea Harbour's dim sums are made-to-order that's why it took 15 min+ to get some of your dishes. I had experienced the same thing but it's expected by the diners. The fact that it took a long time is perceived by many diner as something positive because it suggests the kitchen staff was taking time to make the dishes fresh and cook to order. Compare to more traditional places, where dim sums are premade and served on heated carts, that 15-min definitely is a long time but it's pretty normal for contemporary, "no-cart" dim sum places where most items are made after order is placed.

                                          In regards to the "briny" taste, a possibility is that the shrimps were wrapped whole and not ground up, so the chef didn't mix in any ground pork into the fillings so you didn't have the meat flavor to balance out the "ocean" flavor. From most of my dim sum recipe books I know a small amount of pork fat or pork belly meat is commonly added to ground shrimp dumplings to provide cohesion (to "glue" the ingredients together) and round off flavor. Without the pork, the "whole shrimp" filling will only taste like "ocean" and the flavor doens't get rounded off with a little bit of pork fat, thus resulting in the "briney" taste. I also wonder if it's baking soda or egg white they had used? Maybe they presoak the shrimps in something to give them more texture?Not sure. Either way, the "briny" taste I did get when I visited Sea Harbour but I preceived it as "fresh seafood taste".

                                          I am not trying to defend Sea Harbour but just trying to point out possible reasons as to why you did not enjoy the food there. Given that their food has been pretty consistent the times I have visited and that Sea Harbour is not a cheap dim sum place, if you didn't like it last time, I would save the money and eat elsewhere. I think the stuff you got that day wasn't really "off" but it is an acquired taste and I can certainly see people not liking it, especially they charge a lot of $$ there.

                                      2. Well, thanks everybody for responding. I've reflected on Sea Harbour and my experience there has really had a chance to sink in over the past month, and although I am inclined to think that some of my disappointment at Sea Harbour just had to do with that particular day, I've decided that I just don't think I like the dim sum at Sea Harbour. I am definitely not averse to "nouveau-style" of anything (except Vietnamese because that's what I grew up with and it is near and dear to my heart so my notions of it are understandably very strong) Sometimes nouveau is just new and not better although it is creative and interesting to say the least. I think it's just personal preference that is not necessarily skewed by the fact that it was different or didn't meet my expectations. I think I'm open-minded enough not to be put off by something just because it's different. If it tastes good to me then I think it's good. I just did not like the taste of those shrimps, whole or not. I just did not care for the taste of that shrimp paste on the eggplant which to my palate I found to be spongy and bland. I can't remember the siu mai in particular, but I do recall thinking "meh", take it or leave it. I think it's entirely possible for me to like nouveau-style but not necessarily at Sea Harbour, just like I don't like traditional-style at just any traditional dim sum house. I think to confirm though I'll need to try some of the other nouveau houses and see how they compare to Sea Harbour. I'll have a better reference point and a more accurate picture then.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hch_nguyen

                                          Yeah.. that sounds like a good approach. I am glad to hear that you are still will to try other similar Dim Sum places. I am not so good at suggesting places maybe the other folks can help you out. The only other "fancier dim sum" place I can think of is Koi Palace in SF Bay Area. I heard that Sea Harbour may have a "sister" restaurant in Vancouver? (but not sure if you want to try that one because they might share the same "recipe"... ha) I saw in another blog here the other day that someone enjoyed a dim sum meal in Toronto's Lai Wah Heen. I have never been there but have heard about it many times. If you find new Dim Sum places, please keep us informed on how you like them!

                                          Here is the link to the other blog:

                                        2. hch,

                                          maybe you've already mentioned it in one of many previous posts or it was already brought up by others, but did you go to Sea Harbour on a weekend or weekday?

                                          On a weekday, there's a good chance the kitchen was probably not humming along at its best (smaller staff, not all chefs are around, etc.); whereas on a weekend it's going to be firing on all cylinders.

                                          Just a thought.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Weekend all the way. It was a Saturday. Prost!