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Jun 8, 2012 11:49 AM

Sea Harbour - overrated and I sure don't like being insulted by waiters...


My wife and I went to Sea Harbor recently for dim sum for the first time and it will absolutely be the last time we set foot in the place.

I can't understand why this restaurant is a favorite for dim sum. Sure, you get everything hot from the kitchen, but much of it seemed mediocre and heavy on the MSG. We got the egg custard tarts, which looked fabulous, but tasted like it came from a box. Absolutely no egg flavor at all! The cheung fun with pork was all fun and cilantro with tiny tiny shreds of pork.


But absolutely 100% worse than the food was the attitude of the waitstaff. My wife, for medical reasons, doesn't drink tea, so we always decline even if the tea is free (here it was $1+ per person). As we were being lead to our table, the waitress asked what kind of tea we wanted. My wife politely said (in English), can we sit down and take a look at the menu first?

The waitress replied, "Sure, what kind of tea do you want? Jasmine?"

My wife, again very politely, said "We want to look at the menu first"

Waitress, jabbing her finger at the menu, "Jasmine? Jasmine? Yes?"

I said, firmly, "We will let you know after we sit down, okay?"

So, the waitress turned around, and said to another waiter, in Cantonese (paraphrasing), "These d*ckheads don't want tea. Can you believe how stupid that is?"

We absolutely should have turned right around and left right then and there, but we didn't.

Totally and absolutely regret not walking out.

I will NEVER have ANYTHING good to say about the restaurant and will steer everyone I know away from there.

Very bad show, Sea Harbour.

  1. I had to deal with some pretty unacceptable behavior from the hostesses who refused to sit me at an empty table despite me having made reservations 3 weeks ago and despite more than 10 visits for dinner at $80-$100pp in a 2 year span. That was 2 years ago and the last time I set foot in that place.

    They will not miss our business. Life goes on.

    1. All my experiences at Sea Harbour have been exactly the opposite of yours. Wonderful food and polite service, even when I ask for a fork for my mom.

      5 Replies
      1. re: wienermobile

        Try declining the tea, see what happens!

        I really hate this trend of charging exorbitant rates for things that used to be taken for granted. $1 for tea and condiments is just padding the bottom line.

        Similar things happened at Elite a while back too, but at least they were kind of polite about it.

        Next time, we're going to give Lunasia a chance, but I'm not optimistic that it'll be any better...

        1. re: AtomicSuplex

          $1 for refillable tea is exorbitant at a yum "cha" house?

          What about being charged for soup bases at hotpotting joints?

          1. re: TonyC

            Well, ok, maybe not the best choice of word...but, it wasn't *that* long ago when you could get some tea brought to you without charge and maybe orange slices after the meal. It's was a "oh, that's nice!" kind of feeling.

            Now, it's "ice water? $1 per person!!!!" or "soy sauce? $1 per person!!!!". This is true...they wanted to charge the per person tea fee for soy sauce! That's overboard in my book.

            Just rubs me the wrong way and somehow doesn't set the right tone for a civilized meal.

            1. re: AtomicSuplex

              This is how tea houses operate in Hong Kong, and how many restaurants operate worldwide—the original term "cover charge" referred to a "couvert", meaning a place setting and the things that go with it, like water and condiments. I can't remember ever having got free tea here or in HK, and I'm usually asked what kind of tea I want. I usually order dragonwell, because one of my frequent yum cha companions loves it, but occasionally we will order tiet kwun yum. They're usually surprised that a Westerner would order either.

              It's still no excuse for rudeness—and these places tend to be famed for their rudeness—but there is some context.

        2. Rude people are everywhere and there is not a whole lot you can do to control their behavior.
          Unfortunately like you said, you chose to sit there and take it.

          If someone would have said that to me in front of my face I would not have tolerated it.

          I've only have had pleasant experiences at Sea Harbor so your post won't deter me from going there unless I get called a d-head and hopefully in English.:)

          Sorry to hear you had a bad experience luckily there are other places for you to get your dim sum on.

          1 Reply
          1. "So, the waitress turned around, and said to another waiter, in Cantonese (paraphrasing), "These d*ckheads don't want tea. Can you believe how stupid that is?""

            You should have responded in kind and left.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ns1

              Yes, unfortunately, it was getting late and we didn't have backup plans. Plus, given the generally positive reviews of the place, we were hoping that the food would balance out the waiters. We were not rewarded.

            2. A rude waitress at a Chinese restaurant...the rarity of that must rank right up there with water being wet... ;-D>

              35 Replies
              1. re: Servorg

                Yeah, somewhere the ghost of Edsel Ford Fong is smiling (grouchily). A shame about the OP's bad experience--it's always disappointing when high expectations lead to low performance. Re the poor food, I wonder if was just an off day or something worse.

                1. re: PayOrPlay

                  Edsel's scowling at the hostess while muttering,"Dickhead? Is that all you got muddahpukkah?!"

                  Hostess's bad for among other things, assuming the OP didn't know Cantonese, but - just wondering - wouldn't a yes or no tea moved on the hostess to next question??

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    A few hours of letting this thread brew in my head... I don't know - it's fine that the OP didn't feel that Sea Harbour met their expectations. But my limited experience of the model or pattern of most traditional Cantonese restaurants calls for rhythm and efficiency. If a hostess or waitress/waiter at a yum cha joint of any caliber asked me what tea I wanted, I'd immediately fire back with some response - any response relative to the posed question. Deflection doesn't sit well with the New Yorkers of Chinese Asia - don't fuss, don't break the pattern.

                    If one even remotely looks like he or she can converse in Cantonese, one more demerit - they'll keep rolling with the assumption that you should know better relative to customs/traditions/patterns until one does or says something to belie one's true background. Cantonese-intense eateries (heck, imho, Hong-kies in general are the model of efficiency) are not known to fully embrace the American "I'm the customer so I call the shots here" culture ruling the roost here - it's a tradition-based and time-tested model that if someone who knows what "dickhead" (hum ga chan?) in Cantonese is, then that person should know to come up with a better response than what was given. The OP's given response seems to me to be tripping up the rhythm of the established process. Plus, Cantonese-speaking folks are known for their "colloquialisms," particularly Hongkies. I get that the wife of the OP has valid medical issues relative to cha, but the hostess doesn't. She just views the OP as being either extremely difficult or debating over a part of tradition that should be a given - it's yum cha. When going to a traditional (and normally raucous) eating experience like dim sum, roll with it.

                    My Mandarin-speaking wife who also speaks Cantonese and Hokkien has close friends whose first language is Cantonese, and my wife constantly is laughing at how vulgar their conversation can get. We had a Cantonese-speaking family stay with us for two weeks, and the Cantonese F-bombs were constant and abrasive - no matter where we were. Kind of refreshing actually - face value taken at face value.

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      I learn so much from all of you. It does make me feel very white bread.

                      1. re: ebethsdad

                        People who go to Chinese restaurants expecting warm, accommodating service are the same folks who go to Alaska in December intending to work on their tan.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Hey, my parents Chinese restaurant was warm and accommodating. It also had a mostly non-asian clientele (commensurate with the local population).

                          1. re: PeterCC

                            My parent's restaurant definitely treated the "lau wai" worse, much worse.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              If my parents' restaurant did that, they woulda gone out of business. :-) It was one of only two Chinese restaurants in town, and I think I could count the number of Chinese kids at my school on two hands.

                              (They sold it, but they opened and ran it for over 20 years.)

                              1. re: PeterCC

                                I think the thing is, with Chinese restaurants in an area like SGV that has a dense mass of Chinese clientele, they *can* discriminate against non-Chinese customers. In part because they don't need them to survive and because in many cases non-Chinese customers can be much more high maintenance.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Oh I figured the demographic around our parents' respective restaurants were dramatically different. :-)

                                  How did their restaurant treat Chinese people who don't speak or read (much) Chinese... like me?

                                  1. re: PeterCC

                                    I think they were generally fine with ABC-types.

                                    I think they were generally the most annoyed with non-Chinese clientele who demanded a fortune cookie at the end of the meal, or the folks who would always ask, "what's a good appetizer to start with?" Sheesh.

                                    1. re: PeterCC

                                      Peter, how do you find you're treated at Chinese restaurants? Like you I don't speak Chinese and have a caucasian wife. We're not treate too badly though she gets mad she they instantly give her a fork but not me. Lol.

                                      1. re: granadafan

                                        Hah, my wife gets a little annoyed at that when it happens too, and she has better form with her chopsticks than I do. I think it depends on the Chinese restaurants, and how accustomed they are to treating non-Chinese clientele in general. We don't live near SGV, but we've not had a noticeable problem at places like Din Tai Fung, and Chinese restaurants on the Westside like Hop Li, though I'm sure they're used to more caucasian customers than ipsedixit's parents restaurant. :-)

                                        Also, it depends if we bring our adorable mixed-race kids. :-)

                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                      I rarely have rudeness issues, and I'm a 6' tall platinum blonde dude. But then again, I know what to order, and I speak Chinese :)

                                      Mr Taster

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        I have never had rudeness issues either, I am a 2 inches shorter, don't speak Chinese, as white as Wonder Bread, but then again I do know what to order.

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          A white dude who speaks Chinese is treated nicer in a Chinese restaurant than a Chinese dude who doesn't, in my experience. :-)

                                    3. re: ipsedixit

                                      Last time we had this debate, CH shut down the thread. I still maintain that I've been overwhelmingly treated decently at Chinese places in the SGV. When I asserted that in that thread, I was told "No!, you're too stupid to understand" which was far worse than anything I've picked up on in restaurants. Maybe it's because I don't behave like the stereotypical "white person" diner?

                                      What about when the whole staff comes by to watch the "white guy" eat something they wouldn't expect me to order? Some call it rude, but I'm somewhat amused by it.

                              2. re: bulavinaka

                                wait a second, at what point did this become the OP's fault they got treated so rudely? I don't care if it is a cantonese "quirk," rude service is rude service in any ethnicity. It's not like they were asking for soy sauce to put on their rice. They just wanted to sit down. Maybe the cantonese could do some introspection about their behavior in with other cultures and use their difficulty integrating into canadian society as a sign that sometimes people need to meet each other half way.

                                1. re: chezwhitey

                                  Isn't that the issue, though? That "rude service is rude service in any ethnicity" just isn't accurate? Clearly, there was a cultural gap over the tea issue. The waitress seemed to think the OP was rude and complained the OP thought the waitress was rude and complained on CH. I will say, though, her commentary seems at least 100 times ruder than anything the OP said.

                                  1. re: chezwhitey

                                    There's plenty of blame to spread around on this issue. My perspective is just that - my perspective. And how I view things in this situation is that, sure - calling someone a dickhead is crude. A front-end staffer calling a guest a dickhead is crude-cubed. Thinking she can say it in Cantonese and getting away with it is precarious even around apparent laowai or gweilo. In the context of what I've been exposed to among Cantonese-speaking circles? Matter of fact.

                                    The OP states, "So, the waitress turned around, and said to another waiter, in Cantonese (paraphrasing), "These d*ckheads don't want tea. Can you believe how stupid that is?""

                                    It's obvious to me that if the OP knows dickhead and conversational Cantonese, he should have a pretty firm grip on the ways of the Cantonese. So blowing off the question from the Cantonese waitress three times in the context of a yum cha house is not going to sit well. It's tantamount to throwing a wrench in the proverbial gears, and in this case, knowingly doing so. And it seems obvious to me that the waitress perceived the OP/wife as either not knowing the traditions of yum cha and therefore probably not knowing a lick of Cantonese f-bombs, or was just pissed about their inability to give some sort of response to a very direct and simple question. Assuming that the OP knows the rhythm of such places, "Because my wife is pregnant, her doctor has ordered her to not drink tea/hot drinks," or, "No tea - thanks. We will have water/soda/whatever." The waitress can move on and her instinct to keep moving and be productive is unaltered.

                                    "When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you."

                                    I know I'd be pissed if I was the OP, but I tend to be very retrospective, and I'd have some second thoughts about how I could handle this type of situation in the future. As for the waitress? I'd bet a dime to donuts that this issue in her mind was like one circle around the fish bowl.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      Point taken, but I don't think you are giving the waitress's intelligence enough credit here. He's just asking to sit down first, god forbid he break protocol. She can figure out how to give them beverages even if it means her routine is slightly altered. It's not as if they're asking her to derive Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

                                      1. re: chezwhitey

                                        The waitress's intelligence? Sorry if I offended but if "one circle around the fish bowl " was taken as offensive, I meant that she probably blew it off and was ready for the next in line.

                                        Heisenberg's uncertainty principle obviously can be applied if one adheres to Einstein's belief that in this case, (human) nature is certain in that the outcome seems relatively predictable - yes or no. But I'd extend this reasoning via a nuanced version of Occam's Razor in that, the simplest approach be the most reasonable.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          LOL, +`1.

                                          I know what you meant, I just took much of your post to imply that she was so obstinate in her ways due to sea harbor's ability to defy the second law of thermodynamics that any perturbation to the system would cause the collision of the har gow's anti-matter and matter.

                                          1. re: chezwhitey

                                            Considering that the OP got into hot water over tea, Brownian motion might be the more apt analysis here.

                                            1. re: chezwhitey

                                              Chaos. We has it.

                                              And by chaos I don't mean a Chinese family with the surname Chao...

                                              This board has just the right amount of geek in it. Love it.

                                              1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                Nerd alert - nerd alert...

                                                "Alex, I'll take d!ckhead dimsumisms for $400..."

                                      2. re: bulavinaka

                                        FWIW, Asian but don't speak fluently and rely on parents to translate as needed. My mom doesn't drink tea. When we get that question as soon as we walk in, she just replies no tea, ask for hot water and it's never been a problem.

                                        No excuse for the rudeness of course. When I was in food service, if confronted with that type of customer behavior, I would have been all smiles and called them names after I walked away. Hahaha!

                                        1. re: Jase

                                          >>No excuse for the rudeness of course. When I was in food service, if confronted with that type of customer behavior, I would have been all smiles and called them names after I walked away. Hahaha!<<

                                          I'm guessing that the gutter-mouth waitress felt that by saying what she said in super-secret unintelligible Cantonese to her associate, that the effect was similar - not!

                                          I used to work in the supermarket business decades ago. Talk about having to accommodate all kinds of customer behavior - everybody has to eat so every nut job shows up sooner or later. When we'd get a real tool expecting far beyond what we'd consider reasonable, we obviously couldn't use the default "dickhead" line, so all within proximity would chime in saying, "Have a GOOD day," which in essence meant, "f#ck off." Most customers never got it - just thought it was strange that all this good cheer was still pervasive even after being dicked with. Some did, and they'd report it to the manager. Manager would shrug his/her shoulders. "What do you want them to say?"

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            Yes, I have my years of food service background to thank for perfecting my "@#$! off and die" smile and nominally polite tone and words. Perfect for meetings when people are being idiots but you have to be professional but getting the point across that they are being idiots.

                                    2. re: PayOrPlay

                                      was just in SF and walked by the old fave, Sam Wo, to photograph the exterior as a memory...the beloved/feared Edsel is missed.

                                      1. re: lapizzamaven

                                        Sam Wo came real close to being permanently shut down, Maven. The community protested and a special meeting was held by the city to keep them open.

                                    3. re: Servorg

                                      Sure, I don't expect French Laundry service, but still, insulting a customer just because you think that they don't understand is excessive to me....

                                      1. re: AtomicSuplex

                                        They didn't insult you because they thought you didn't understand, be (probably) because you didn't answer the question.

                                        Now, they probably thought they would get away with it because you didn't understand. There's a joke in the beginnin of Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 (the original) along those lines.

                                        1. re: AtomicSuplex

                                          Just go to Elite for dim sum. You'll be allowed to sit before ordering tea.

                                          The sticky rice in lotus leaves and bean curd roll are superior at Elite anyways. Har gow is the same in quality.

                                          And you don't have to be held in contempt of dim sum court.