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Sep 18, 2005 12:04 PM

Dim sum lunch at China Max (San Diego)

  • g

Last Friday, finished up with the computer intensive care ward at CompUSA and both the Grouchy Gourmet and I realized that we were famished! I was able to get him to agree to try China Max because, A)It was nearby and, B)It was nearby.

We arrived 11:40 am, parking was easy and we had our pick of tables in the attractive, sunny and surprisingly cozy interior. Tables were set with tablecloths, fresh flowers and chopsticks.

We were given three menus, one of which was a dim sum picture list. The GG left for the bathroom, telling me to order for him. (Did I mention that he was famished?)

I ordered from the dim sum menu only, figuring that it would be fast, and it was. The order was taken and drinks delivered before he returned.

In the five-ten minutes that it took for us to get sorted, the parking lot and the restaurant filled up and the lobby was filled with people waiting. Timing is everything!

Our food arrived in a flash. Beautiful to look at, blazingly hot, we had pork shu mai, shrimp har gow, shrimp and spinach dumplings and, the best, the most amazing baby squid and steamed spare ribs w/black beans.

The baby squid was enrobed in a crispy, crackly covering and drenched in a sauce with garlic and red and green chiles. The texture was chewy and crunchy and the flavor exploded in your mouth. I moaned a little and told myself not to lick my plate.

The steamed spareribs were another revelation. Soft, chewy, gristly, fatty and earthy. Fabulous and impossible to eat without using your fingers.

We were stuffed and had plenty of squid and ribs to take home for another meal. (I licked the plate later.)

$32.00 for lunch and the looks on the faces of the people waiting for a table, priceless.

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  1. perhaps you could have "sold" your table to the highest bidder? :-)

    1. I love their squid, it is really, really good.

      1. My wife and I had a very pleasant experience on our 1st. visit to China Max. A gentleman, the owner perhaps?, guided us through our selections. Food was great. My limited Cantonese was received with laughter and patience.

        Visit #2 was totally different. We did not see our gentleman guide this visit, and we placed our order with a young waitress we saw on our 1st. visit. We ordered baby squid off the menu. When the order came to our table, it was not baby squid, but baby octopus. We then experienced a syndrome we've experienced in the past. Our waitress insisted it was squid, and I, bristling was unpleasant memories of past confrontations, insisted it was octopus! After a few rounds of this, the octopus was removed at no charge. End of story.

        I really hate being treated like this, and will never eat there again. My wife and I have been going to Emerald, and the service and food is excellent. Also, on KirkK's recommendation we tried Ba Ren. Just incredible all around, food and service. These 2 restaurants really deserve a Chowhound's visits.

        We recently retired here from New Jersey, and we've been eating in New York's Chinatown for many, many years. We're delighted to find authentic Chinese food here in San Diego, and we thank you all for sharing your experiences with us newcomers. Many thanks. (Do jay, shey shey)

        4 Replies
        1. re: Big Ron

          I'm delighted to hear that you had a good meal at Ba Ren - it's our favorite restaurant right now.

          1. re: KirkK

            We're up in Oceanside, and it's hard to get down there, but we can't wait to get back. Enjoyed it very much.

            Thanks also for the mention of Shanghai City. We want to try that one next.

          2. re: Big Ron

            Indeed, what's listed as baby squid is, in my experience, baby octopus at China Max. Aside from the awkward deception, my wife and I regularly order the "octosquid" as it's simply a wonderful appetizer - dense, slightly chewy, salty and succulent. Honestly, I couldn't be happier with the product whatever they prefer to call it.

            Perhaps it's some sort of Chinese nomenclature that accounts for the confusing title? Anybody know?

            In other menu oddities (which seem to flourish in Asian restaurants) what is listed as "Rod Cod w/ Black Bean Sauce" is actually Red Cod and is simply superb. The General Tso's Chicken is made in the classic home-style (as I understand it) with an emphasis on the ketchup - different for sure, but still delightful. They also occasionally serve a seafood stir fry of sorts that's baked in a green pumpkin and is out of this world.

            The only real issue that I have with China Max is that they serve shark fin. It offends my sensibilities because of the senseless manner in which almost all shark fin is "harvested". My weakness, though, is that my tastebuds, in this case, trump my principles. Mea culpa.

            1. re: deckape

              I strongly suspect a typo or a mis-translation of squid and octopus in English. There are two different phrases in Chinese for them. Menu oddities flourish simply because of typos or difficulties in translating. The people who write, print, and edit the menus typically speak English as a second language, so what seems to be a glaring typo to a native English speaker might slip through. Sometimes, if a dish's name is odd in Chinese, the translation is even more awkward, even if it's correctly done.

              Shark fin soup is one of the staples of a formal Cantonese meal, so it's not going to disappear off of menus any time soon. I grew up with the stuff, but I've abstained for many years because of the fishing practices. At family dinners, there's the occasional awkward moment when everyone is enjoying it and wants to know why I'm not.

              China Max's is my favorite dim sum place in San Diego. I was there this past Saturday and the dim sum was superb, except for the steamed custard bun. The eggy custard wasn't as smooth as usual and was a little bland.

          3. I do love that the dim sum here is delivered to order and not on the pushcarts - it ensures that all dishes are fresh and piping hot!


            1. Funny thing - we had Dim Sum at China Max this past weekend. We were recovering from a terrible experience at our favorite - Emerald, the food was badly seasoned, service was slow, and worst of all the Taro Gok was horrid.
              The Dim Sum at China Max is milder in flavor and alot lighter IMHO.