Mission 261 for dinner?
I hear a lot about their dim sum, but are their dinners any good? I keep hearing that they tend to be expensive.
Oops, sorry. Just noticed there has been some talk about their reopening in mid-March. I always loved it for dim sum, not so much for dinner. There were some incredibly expensive things but others that weren't so. I would wait to hear from someone who has been there since the reopening though. There could have been changes.
Realize something, most Hong Kong banquet type restaurants like Mission 261 will always do dinner better than dim sum. The real talents of the kitchen are only really revealed with the dinner menu - not at dim sum.
The myopic fascination some people on this board have with dim sum is sometimes quite puzzling, if not a bit humorous.
Welp, just came back from grandma's 90th birthday dinner at Mission 261 and boy, what a freaking disappointment. My parents and a few of my cousins had had dim sum here in the past and thought it was interesting (if pricey), and decided it would be a good location to celebrate this grand milestone. Unfortunately, the Chinese banquet food was TERRIBLE. The variety of dishes was very unimpressive and un-banquet-like: we started out with a tiny plate of Chinese-style cold cuts (there were two separate tables, 10 people at one, eight in the other). Then there was bbq duck (like Peking duck-style, with crispy skin), but not served with buns, just chopped into chunks. Then some bland veggie dish that had celery stalks, slices of carrot, and shrimp -- this dish was so paltry, by the time the lazy Susan brought it to me (and again, there were only 10 people at my table, and none of them gluttons), all the shrimp was gone. So I ate a few pieces of flavorless celery covered in lots of cornstarch goo.
Then there was a simple fried rice dish. I was very surprised to see this as a part of a Chinese banquet package. But I love fried rice, so I dug in -- wow, it was horrible. There was no flavor, the peas were hard (like they hadn't been boiled enough?), the carrot chunks were hard, and the worst part was the rice -- it was wet and mushy. It was the strangest fried rice I'd ever eaten. I didn't think you could screw up something that easy.
Then there was some kind of thinly sliced mushroom laid over Chinese bok choy -- again, bland and drowning in cornstarch goo. By this point I was getting more bored than full, which was a strange phenomenon for me. But I kept thinking, stupidly, that there was more to come, and something would definitely wow me -- because there is always at least one "wow" dish in a Chinese banquet (at least in my experience). A lobster dish came in, too -- actually, before the mushroom one -- but I didn't partake because it was the messy kind (chopped up into chunks, with shell still on, and also drowning in cornstarch goo). I can't comment on the lobster since I didn't try it. Maybe that would've been the "wow" dish. (Probably not, though, judging by the way it looked and smelled.)
There was a roasted chicken dish, too. It was really similar to the duck dish in preparation. Oh -- I forgot to mention that the duck dish was not even part of the banquet package; it was ordered as an add-on. That was the dish I enjoyed the most, though that's not saying much considering how tasteless the entire meal was.
We ended with red bean soup with a few lotus seeds thrown in for show. It was the most sugary Chinese dessert soup I'd had in a long while. I liked it, though -- don't get me wrong -- but boy, it was sweet.
AND THAT WAS IT! When they'd brought out the red bean soup, I was again surprised, because I had expected more (and better) food still. I don't know what's wrong with this restaurant; I know that our family had ordered one of the cheaper banquet choices (and yet the bill came out to $548), but we always stick to the same price point, so that's very telling at a place like Mission 261 where ambiance is obviously far more important than food.
I would not recommend dinner at this place.
EDITED TO ADD: I would like to emphasize that I'm not certain I recounted every dish that was served in this banquet, so if it sounds to you like this was an unbelievably tiny banquet for the price, it's probably because I left something out. And understandably so, considering how forgettable everything was (except for the bizarre fried rice). But I can assure you it wasn't more than one or two dishes. And above all, the quality of the dishes I did detail above was just absolutely HORRIBLE.
Mission 261 Restaurant
261 S Mission Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Oh, well, this was an 18-person banquet that was planned and funded by the sons and daughters of my grandma, with me and many of my cousins (i.e., their children; her grandkids) along for the free ride as usual, so I wouldn't have had any say in the matter. But yeah, speaking to others who had dined tonight, the consensus was quite unanimous that the food was simply bad.
I, too, am sorry to hear of this decline. Our wedding banquet (for about 60 people) was wonderful, but that was back in Feb 2007 before the remodel. I do find a few things about your story rather curious. Few of the dishes you're describing sound even vaguely familiar.
My wife is Taiwanese, and so in preparation for our banquet, the manager asked us "will your guests be Chinese or "foreign"?" Rather than answer that question directly, we told them we wanted the Chinese menu, and they delivered. Jellyfish appetizer, abalone, the full Chinese banquet. Were you posed this question? And does your family appear "foreign" to the casual observer? I wonder if you got the non-Chinese menu.
For what it's worth, we haven't been back to Mission 261 other than to look at what they did for the remodel, and we didn't like it at all. The courtyard with the beautiful old grape vine where we exchanged vows (which was already a small space) now contains the bar that used to be in the clubhouse room. The courtyard now has a lopsided feel to it, and is even more cramped than before. No good.
re: Mr Taster
My family is all Chinese -- my cousins and I are the first American-born generation (we're in our late 20s to late 30s); our parents (Grandma's kids) were born in China and moved to Taiwan as infants/toddlers following the Communist takeover. We definitely look like we belong in the SGV. In fact, most of my extended family lives in the SGV and we always have big dinners in the area, so making reservations for this sort of thing is really old hat. The only anomaly tonight was that they decided to go a little outside the usual, reliable Chinese banquet places and go with a fancier-looking place than usual. After all, Grandma was turning 90, and maybe ambiance does matter once in a while. Too bad about the food. Never again!
EDITED TO ADD: I realize my lame, vague descriptions of the food probably sounded kind of um, heh, like a non-Chinese person's take on it, but I've always been terrible at describing Chinese food -- partly because I only know the names and ingredients in Chinese, and even then it's kind of spotty because I'm never completely paying attention to what the "adults" are ordering in the first place.
ADDENDUM: I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered another dish -- black pepper beef. It was really dark, almost black with soy sauce, so at first I thought it was burnt candied walnuts; the shape of the beef "slices" looked chunky and bumpy like half walnuts, too, which contributed to that initial confusion. They were way too salty (as salty as they were darkened with soy sauce), but still tasty. This was probably the only other dish I actively enjoyed eating, but there was so little of it (it made perhaps two spins through the lazy Susan, and it was gone), and it was served in such a simpleton way (just dumped, shiny with more cornstarch goo of course, on a giant leaf of lettuce), it felt unsatisfying. I also would have appreciated having some rice with it (or some of that weird fried rice, which came much later) because it was so salty.
Again, this felt like a random, mediocre dish. To paraphrase Alvy Singer, the food was terrible, and it came in such small portions. (Though to be fair, it wasn't so much the quantity as the sheer lack of quality that made this banquet so terrible.)