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Lunasia: Does expensive dim sum mean better quality and taste? [Review w/ Pics]

Full review formatted with photos: http://www.twohungrypandas.com/2009/0...

Text Review:

For dim sum, we usually hit up the always reliable and affordable Capital Seafood. The other day, though, we decided to mix it up and live on the edge by hitting up a fancier and higher priced (too expensive according to our Chinese parents) restaurant. One of these "tai gway" places is Lunasia where the cheapest plate is $1.88 . We're moderately firm believers that prices = better quality in foods, so we decided to gel out the extra money and move our expectation meters up.

Walking into Lunasia, we immediately noticed a difference from the traditional dim sum atmosphere. No loud cart ladies pushing giant pieces of metals. Instead, we had to order from a list that was somewhat well translated into English. Chatter was kept at a moderately low level. The clean, serene decor, better china, and the addition of an orchid centerpiece (which is taken away when you arrive at the table) made the place feel classy and relaxed. The beautiful sunlight also radiated through the tall windows. We were beginning to like what we're seeing.

After going through the list of dim sums and orderly mostly from the $3.08 section, we eagerly waited for our food.

MACAO ROASTED PORK BELLY ($6.88) is categorized under the Chef Specialty section. The delicately sliced pork had a crispy skin and a small amount of fat that balanced with the meat and skin.

Since Evelina loves durian, the DURIAN CAKE ($3.08) was a must try. As you can see by the picture, it isn't exactly a cake but a flaky pastry with a durian filling. Evelina wasn't too impressed because it was too oily, and there wasn't enough durian filling to balance the flakes.

Lunasia's EGG CUSTARDS ($2.08) have a rich egg custard filling and a delightfully toasty crust.

The B.B.Q PORK BUNS ($2.08) had a sticky, sweet top and a generous amount of BBQ pork filling. It meets the BBQ pork bun standard.

The BEEF TRIPE WITH SCALLIONS ($3.08) was pleasantly not too oily. The taste of scallions is deliciously infused into the tripe, which was chewy, but tender enough.
The SOFT SHELL CRAB ($6.88), also a chef specialty, is not your typical dim sum dish, but we like to order the untypical. The fried soft shell crab was spicy and salty, but, like the other dishes, not too oily.

PEA-TIP SCALLOP DUMPLING ($4.08) had a soft skin, chewy toppings, and warm insides. A delectable, different type of dumpling.

What we're beginning to notice about Lunasia that their dishes are not too oily or fatty. This consistency was also seen in the BLACK BEAN SPARERIBS ($3.08), which usually has really fatty pieces of spareribs that are drench in a bed of oil. Lunasia stood out with this popular and simple dish. The pork pieces were lean and the sauce was not mostly oil.

The SHRIMP RICE NOODLE ($3.08) had huge pieces of shrimp that were NOT overcooked. Evelina loves shrimp, but overcooked shrimp, which is typical at most dim sum restaurants, disgusts her. This time she actually consumed the shrimp.

The BEEF RICE NOODLE ($3.08)'s herbs complemented the meat very well. A standard, well made dish.

HONG KONG ROASTED DUCK ($5.88) was our last chef specialty item. The top pieces of the duck were a bit fatty, but the rest seem like quality pieces of the bird, which also had a crispy skin.

The SHRIMP HAR GOW ($3.08) was larger than what is usually served. The shrimp was huge and the outer skin was soft but still able to hold well.

The grand finale of the dim sum meal was the huge PORK SIU-MAI ($3.08) packed with pieces of pork and shrimp with tiny pieces of mushroom and a sprinkle of fish eggs.

Aside from the spotty service, we thought Lunasia had good quality dim sum. We're definitely coming back to this place when we're craving huge siu-mai and har gow. Otherwise, we'll regularly stick to our affordable dim sum places, which also have a bigger selection of food (many of our favorite dishes were not on the menu). Our Chinese parents would be proud.

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  1. Hmmm...I live in Denver, where the Chinese pickings are much slimmer, and these prices are about average. FWIW.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tatamagouche

      I think Lunasia is reasonably priced for what you get. What's happened out here recently is a spate of price cutting such that at your popular dim sum places, prices are down to well under $2 on weekdays for almost everything, and right at $2 on weekends.

      1. re: tatamagouche

        I don't mind paying extra for dim sum and I do agree that it is reasonably priced for the quality. However I can't spoil myself too much. I remember as a child when a mere 10 cents a dish price difference would decide which dim sum place we would eat at.

        Its like boba milk tea - I just to buy a cup for $1 now it cost me $4.50.

      2. Great pictures and nice descriptions! Made me want some Dim Sum NOW!!! Thank you.

        1. These prices are not high. They are pretty standard for off-the-menu joints.

          Any time I go to joints that compete solely on price -- i.e. Capital or Top Island -- I always regret it and feel like for a $1 or two more per dish I could be about $10 richer in the "happiness quotient".

          1. Right now, it's my go-to place for dim sum. My preferences are constantly evolving though, so who knows where I'll be spending my dim sum money next month :)

            1. Those prices are not terribly expensive. Really cheap dim sum usually isn't worth it.

              1. Prices seem normal to me, the $2.08/$3.08/$4.08 structure. There might be some cheaper at $1.58 or $1.68 for the basic items, like Ocean Star, but the price difference is negligible at that level. Haven't really seen any places less than $1.50 for the A-level items. Can't recall what Elite's prices are since it's been over a year since my last visit, but I seem to recall the now-closed Mission 261 having a $3/$4/$5 price structure.

                I went to Lunasia for the first time recently and enjoyed the dim sum there, after having visited several times when it was Triumphal Palace.

                1. I like Lunasia for dim sum. Surely, the very pretty, clean space makes for a serene dim sum experience.

                  Unlike your experience with "spotty service," wesleywong, our service there has been very good. On our most recent visit, we were served by our favorite server at Elite; he moved over to Lunasia. He was extraordinary at Elite, and he continues to be extremely attentive at Lunasia. We never needed to look for him; he was always available and ahead of us with any requests.

                  While Elite and Capital continue to be favorites, we place Lunasia in our top 5...for the moment.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: liu

                    I think the waiters were just busy talking to each other. The food was awesome but the service was so-so. That alone wont deter me from going to this place as Lunasia is my current favorite.

                    1. re: wesleywong

                      Hi, wesleywong.
                      I'm sorry to hear about your disappointing service at Lunasia. How is your service at Elite?
                      I saw on a recent post that you did not enjoy your last visit to Elite; was it the service or something else?

                      1. re: liu

                        It was a combination of bad service and "meh" food. The food came out fast but trying to get a cup of water or our check proved to be a complicated task. Also they were slow (really slow) to clear empty dishes off the table. I will post a comparison picture of dishes at Lunasia vs Dishes of Elite later on this thread later on today.

                        1. re: liu

                          Here is the comparison shot: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_B5YLLhfkSuA...

                          Elite is on the left and Lunasia on the right. The pork at Elite was dry, overcooked, and burnt. The sui mai at Lunasia embodied more flavor at Lunasia. The durian cake looks undercooked at Elite. The Egg tarts are prepared in different styles so its hard to say.

                          1. re: wesleywong

                            Great pictures, wesleywong!

                            I love the egg tarts at Elite!

                        2. re: wesleywong

                          The service was horrendous at Triumphal Palace. I see no improvement in the service now that it is Lunasia. The food however is much better than it was in the latter days of TP. That location is a dining rollercoaster. Up then down; now up again.