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May 30, 2010 06:16 PM

Sorry, but Elite isn't all that

I went with my parents and grandma to Elite today for dim sum. I have to say, it wasn't mindblowing or spectacular. Yes, it was very very good, don't get me wrong. The only dish I actively disliked was the shao mai, because there was some really strong fishy flavor going on within the center of it, which isn't to my liking.

No, nothing was even close to bad -- but my point is, with the way everyone on Chowhound just raves about Elite, or at the very least kneejerk-lists Elite as the number one or two dim sum restaurant in the LA area (or top five, but you get what I'm talking about), I was really expecting like.. something *something* good! Like, amazing taste, flavors...

There was one mindblowing dish: the egg custard (dan ta). Wow. It was piping hot out of the oven, with a buttery, flakey crust that just collapsed upon touch and the most silken, delicate, nearly liquid hot custard in the center, this dish made me, my mom, and my grandma stop mid-chew and proclaim to the others how good it was.

But everything else, the chicken feet, the taro cake, the xia jao (har gow), and a few others, were just as good as most dim sum places we've been to. My parents and grandmother are all Chinese immigrants from Taiwan and my grandma lives in Monterey Park, just as a bit of background info for reference -- and yes, I'm pointing that out because my parents had been telling me they'd eaten at Elite once before and while it was good, it wasn't better than anything else they've eaten, and I just refused to believe them because of the multitudes of positive comments on Chowhound.

Now I've decided always to trust my parents when it comes to Chinese food in LA. Chowhound will still be my go-to for non-Chinese cuisine, but I've been disappointed by every Chinese-recommended place on this board. I'm not blaming anybody, and I do realize we should all remember these are just opinions being put forth here, so it's not like anybody's actually *wrong* about a single thing; I just realize now that my parents are better and more reliable sources for Chinese chow than anybody on this board. (Also, I'm biased because I love them.)

But anyway, with food quality being equal to that of other dim sums my family and I have been to, and considering the hour-long wait and the extremely high prices at Elite, I won't bother eating there again.

I just want to reiterate: this is not a negative review of Elite; it's a great dim sum restaurant but simply not worth the price. And if my parents saw me write that previous sentence, they'd say "that's exactly what we kept trying to tell you!"

P.S. Another observation is that dim sum cuisine is such that the range of quality generally isn't too great; I mean, you know, the difference between the "worst" and the "best" dim sum is pretty small, in my opinion. For one thing, it's kind of hard to seriously mess up most of the classic dishes, and conversely, I believe there is a ceiling to their deliciousness as well. Does this make sense? I feel that it's not difficult or rare to achieve extremely tasty, well-made dim sum, which is why so many dim sum places taste so equally good. And this is why I think Elite's "greatness" simply cannot be head and shoulders above the competition. Okay, I'll shut up now.

Elite Restaurant
700 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

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  1. The fishy taste of the shu mai you were tasting were real fish eggs on top(the red stuff).
    As far as quality and taste overall I'd say it's right near the top in the LA area. The prices are not really out of sight for having the best in town.

    1 Reply
    1. re: monku

      Re: the fish eggs on top: Heh, that's exactly what my parents told me when I mentioned the fishy taste. I actually saw the fish eggs and was impressed. But I guess my mouth wasn't as much.

    2. Having tried just about every dim sum joint in SGV, I can say that Elite's offerings are not only appreciably better than most, but also qualitatively more inventive. (As an aside, I still prefer Sea Harbour as having the best dim sum in SGV, but that's another thread).

      Is it worth the supposed price premium? That's really a personal thing. I mean, is it worth the extra $$ for a hamburger at Golden State (for example) versus what you can get at say In-N-Out? On some days, certainly. On others? Not so much.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        You know, I can't help consider another factor: the build-up and expectation within *me* after observing extremely positive Chowhound comment after comment over a period of several months. I can't un-taste today's meal, but I wonder what I would've thought about it if I had never read a single thing about Elite?

        Granted, my parents never read Chowhound and had already eaten there once before, and when I mentioned Elite they just sort of shrugged it off as not bad but not special, either.

        Maybe it's nature + nuture and I just like what my parents like. I'm not trying to backpedal from my original post (and there's really nothing to back away from anyway, since it was just my honest impression of my meal), but I do feel a mob of polite defenders of Elite hovering over my shoulder now, heh, and I'm just trying to understand out loud why my (and my parents') feelings are so radically different from you guys'.

        1. We had dim sum at 888 yesterday. We walked in and were immediately seated for a table of three. I mean no sooner did I sit down, the carts descended upon our table. Literally, within two minutes, our table was maxxed out with all sorts of standard dim sum items. After having almost nothing but Elite and Sea Harbour (which I prefer) for the past few years, I was awestruck. I'd forgotten how efficient the cart system was. Full table of dim sum dishes, steamers, and bowls, tea for three, and we were off and running. Everything was good - I repeat good. I'll even give some of the items we had a very good. But the more delicate items showed their age - skins a bit dry and coming apart at the edges; some a bit flabby, etc. - but I found little to complain about otherwise. many of the items where whole shrimp were found in Elite and Sea Harbour had shrimp paste at 888. No big deal - they still tasted good, just no snap of fresh shrimp. And what's amazing is, we just by instinct averaged about $15 before tip. We ate more dishes - I estimate four more dishes - but we always average about $15 before tip at Elite an Sea Harbour for dim sum as well. 888 is probably one of the better if not best cart-driven dim sum places in SGV. Did it blow me away? I was sated but not impressed. We wanted quick and we got quick. The flavors were more than acceptable, but not as fresh as Elite, and definitely not up there with my experiences at Sea Harbour - the textures were definitely a couple of tiers below Elite and definitely below Sea Harbour.

          Your parents I cannot disrespect. They are our elders and I respect their feelings and opinions. In my very humble opinion, what is perceived as taste, may be one or two factors to some, it may be a multitude factors to others. A 96-point Cabernet Sauvignon which we polished last night was superb to me, while passing the lips with no awe to our dear friend who prefers cabs, but might not be looking for some of things that I do when putting a bottle like this down. Those nuances that I picked up on, those qualities that I prefer, aren't usually all present in other examples. That's okay though. everyone has their preferences, thresholds, perceptions and standards. But I'd urge you to do as much of a side-by-side comparison between one of the better cart places versus Elite and give it another ponder.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            bulavinka, I am impressed! We have gorged ourselves senseless in parties of from three to ten at 888, and have never been able to go much over $10 per gullet; I think we hit $12 once, but that was because I insisted on one or two more things than usual off the expensive side.

            I agree that many of their offerings show signs of economizing, but we've never had anything bad, which is one reason of several why 888 has remained our default dim sum destination. We are also addicted to cart service. It's like turkey on Thanksgiving: whether you really like it or not, it's hardwired into the program for most of us.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Hi Will,

              I told my wife that once our table was full in the first two minutes of arrival, not to order anything else unless it was something she considered to be "special." As fate would have it, she seemed to consider just about everything coming afterwards on the carts to be special...?! Now that I think about it, we actually picked up about six more dishes than normal. The dessert cart came by and we picked up a gelatin dessert (translucent gold with bits of tiny flowers and goji berries) and a sesame custard which was really good.

              888 is a great place to go when considering all of the factors. If friends insist on a cart place, it's tops on our list.

          2. Elite is as good as it gets in Los Angeles, and therefore by definition, is also among the tops in the US. But if your standard is what you can get in Vancouver or Hong Kong, then you are absolutely right.

            12 Replies
            1. re: Chandavkl

              I must've missed it, but was the OP really trying to compare Elite to dim sum in Vancouver (or heaven forbid) Hong Kong?

              That would be sort of like comparing Chinese food in Phoenix to that of SGV ...

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Wow - Chinese food in Phoenix is that good? ;)

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Okay, I must meekly pipe up since ipsedixit has called this out; I was originally going to let slide Chandavkl's left-field defense/justification of my opinion because it was nice of him and also it would've made me seem less crazy.

                  But ipsedixit is right: I wasn't making any such comparison to Vancouver or HK. Maybe I threw Chandavkl off a bit with my slightly tangential remark about my parents' country of origin, which, to clarify, I was stating as a pre-emptive defensive move, lest anyone try to discredit their Elite's-just-okay tastebuds with a reason having to do with their not "knowing" their Chinese cuisine. Anyway...

                  1. re: buttermarblepopcorn


                    I ain't trying to call you out nor attack your opinions of Elite.

                    All I was trying to say in my original reply is that what people consider "good" or "great" is all a matter of personal taste -- esp. when you factor in price and the supposed "worth it" factor.

                    Also, now that I think about it, might I suggest another hypothesis (as flawed as it might be) as to why you and your parents were less than enthralled with Elite? Perhaps because your parents were from Taiwan and immigrated here to the States they were never part of the Hong Kong/Vancouver dim sum evolution where the pedestrian and traditional dim sum offerings were transformed into a form of Chinese haute cuisine.

                    For people who grew up eating Pizza Hut and Dominos, selling them on a pie from Mozza for $20 would not only seem foolish, but distasteful in more ways than one.

                    Just a thought.


                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      ipse, I know you were neither calling me out nor attacking me. I never took it that way. I was trying to exhibit sheepishness and not defensiveness over the funny and sweet "excuse" chandave was offering up.

                      But... now you're comparing my parents to Pizza Hut and Dominos? Don't worry, I'm not mad in the least, just deeply amused. I do think it's a worthy analogy in theory, but I don't believe it applies. (Actually, I don't think it's a fair analogy because you're sort of equating Pizza Hut/Dominos with Taiwanese cuisine and Mozza with HK cuisine, but that's not too important at the moment.) For one thing, they've eaten a lot of authentic Chinese food of many regions and have been to the mainland and HK. And they've had plenty of dim sum right here in the SGV so it's not like Elite was, like, just the tenth dim sum restaurant they've ever tried.

                      So yes, everyone's got a different idea of what's tasty, and yes, some people used to a certain style of bastardized food may not ever appreciate the authentic version, but I believe my parents have an extensive enough range of Chinese food experiences to overcome the limits of just "liking what you know." I think they know what they like, but they can also appreciate good flavors that hit their tastebuds.

                      P.S. Oh, and even though they were raised in Taiwan, my parents were actually born in China -- my dad's parents are from Beijing and Shanghai, and my mom's from Fuzhou -- and Taiwanese is *not* actually their favorite Chinese cuisine.

                      1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                        This is a fascinating thread. It might be helpful as a point of reference to know what restaurants (dim sum or otherwise) your parents like best. Or do they think that nothing in SoCal is better than just okay? I have a friend from Hong Kong who subscribes to that opinion, so this is an understandable answer.

                        As an aside, I love Sea Harbour and Elite, but I believe the best dim sum I've ever had in the US was at Crystal Garden in Flushing in the late 1980's. It's possible that, were I to have it today, it wouldn't stand the test of time, but I'm pretty sure I've never had char siu bao or shiu mai nearly as good as theirs, even in Hong Kong.

                        1. re: Peripatetic

                          Hmm, very good question (and kind of obvious that I should've thought of it myself). I'll ask them! And depending on how they reply, I may or may not report back hehehehe...

                          1. re: Peripatetic

                            memories of traveling can often overshine facts and realty. I often have great recollections of Hong Kong food having lived there for a few months while studying.

                            Although I admit most things were not incredible I remember them as being great, especially the dim sum. In general as long as you went to a nice and busy dim sum restaurant you couldn't go wrong.

                            1. re: Johnny L

                              I lived in NYC at the time, so it wasn't that. On the other hand, I've had a lot of dim sum since then so it's hard to know whether I'd still be as impressed. But at the time, nothing in NYC came close. Not 20 Mott, East Lake, 888 Palace, Golden Unicorn, etc.

                      2. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                        Actually, Mrs. Chandavkl agrees with you 100 percent on Elite. In her case, she has a single standard and gives no slack for location, be it Vancouver, San Francisco or Phoenix (the latter which does have some pretty good Chinese food).

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          Thank god I'm not alone! I stand firmly behind my opinion but it's always nice not to feel like a COMPLETE freak.