The Gist: No Website!
The Why: Living in Ohio and moving to Phoenix my opportunities for good Dim Sum are limited and given the fact that this trip to Los Angeles would be my very first by car I wanted to visit at least one of the hot spots in the San Gabriel Valley – ideally with a group – and when a local dining buddy suggested he’d gladly meet me out in Rosemead AND bring a group the only question was whether to visit Elite or Sea Harbour, a decision eventually favoring the later since he’d already been to Elite. Admittedly no expert on Dim Sum and thus deferring to the opinions of my friend the decision was made to arrive ‘later’ in the day as to avoid the oft cited 2+ hour waits, approximately 12:30-1:00.
The Reservation: Nope – just a long line, even at 1:00 when we all arrived and managed to allocate parking – and a 45 minute wait before our party of four was called and we all rushed in to avoid the front of house moving on to the next number.
The Setting: White tablecloths, comfortable chairs, and controlled chaos. Pretty much everything you’d expect from Dim-Sum, and although there are no carts there is the occasional server zipping around to offer you har-gow, a pork bun, or something else adding to the confusion.
The Service: They take your order. They fill your tea. They deliver your food as it is prepared. If you are lucky they will tell you what they are serving…and maybe even get you a glass of water (if you ask.) If you ask me I’ve personally never had bad service at a dim sum spot – I’ve also never had good service; just appropriate service and the same as every other table in the house.
The food and drink: Tea, Water, 13 Plates divided amongst a group of four.
Steamed BBQ Pork Bun: Simple, fluffy, packed with a lot of pork and not overly sweet. A very good start.
Shrimp Dumpling: Perhaps the ‘definitive’ must-order standard for dim-sum a quartet of high quality Har-Gow arrived with translucent wrappers barely able to contain the densely packed shrimp and although I personally found the wrapped to be slightly too thick the shrimp was snappy, sweet, and steaming hot.
Sticky Rice Wrapped with Lotus Leaf: Admitting that I’m not a big consumer of rice I was skeptical of this dish but when it arrived and I opened the bundle I was met with not only the fantastic aromatics of soy and allspice but also nearly rice-pudding textured roll lightly tinged with seasoned beef; definitely one of my favorite plates of the day.
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce: Considering the fact that I eat (no exaggeration) about 20lbs of broccoli a week I obviously love the vegetable and yet at the same time I never order it in restaurants largely because I consume so much the rest of the time. That said, apparently ‘needing’ to have some vegetables on the table according to those wiser than I this long-stemmed style broccoli was perfectly steamed and snappy while the oyster sauce was thick and savory with just a bit of sweet…good, but too filling considering the rest of the items on the table.
Stewed Ox tendon and Tripe in Brown Sauce: A chance choice with this one and unfortunately we took a swing and missed – the textures all fine but the sauce a sort of acidic and grainy flavor that fell somewhere between grape nuts cereal and apple cider vinegar; not good…not good at all.
Shrimp and Scallop Dumpling: Offered as replacement to my friend as the kitchen had run out of shrimp and chive dumplings these were actually quite nice and although the dusting of roe really offered nothing the shrimp and scallops were both nicely cooked while the wrappers proved thinner and less sticky than those on the har-gow.
Beef Ball in Superior Sauce: Not something I’d have ordered by choice but actually quite good, the meatballs lightly spiced and the “superior” sauce more of a chicken stock style of broth with tender bok choy adding a needed vegetal tinge.
Sauteed Sichuan Runner Beans with Minced Pork: While I did not detect much pork flavor the beans were nicely cooked with a snappy exterior giving way to the tender beans within – a bit sweet, a bit savory, and filling that *need* for vegetables on the table.
Meat Ball and Fish Ball Bean Curd Congee: I love congee and as good as the version was at Yang’s in Toronto this is probably the best traditional version I’ve had of the dish. Featuring white rice cooked to that perfect point where it becomes creamy but remains toothsome and further enhanced by smooth tofu plus a trio of each protein there was a whole lot (both in portion and in flavor) to love about this dish and although traditional donuts were not offered a sidecar of green onions and crisply fried dough added plenty of bonus texture.
Egg Custard Tart: Hot, just short of set, and housed in a crisp pastry shell my dining partners held off and enjoyed these as dessert while I endangered the roof of my mouth with the molten custard…and it was totally worth it, the subtle sweetness and rich filling marrying perfectly with the buttery crust…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I could eat these by the dozen.
Deep Fried Squid in Spicy, Salty, Pepper: Oddly described on the menu with only adjectives I wasn’t sure if this would come in sauce or simply breaded but when it did arrive it proved to be without a doubt the best dish of the afternoon for me, the calamari all tender and sweet with a light batter that was, as promised, plenty salty and spicy, but not so much as to overwhelm the squid.
Eggplant Stuffed with Shrimp Paste: I love eggplant, I like shrimp, and although the eggplant was a touch overcooked for this quartet the flavors were quite nice – the sauce clearly derived from roasted eggplant and peanut oil but also tinged with five spice and green onions. Great flavor but a bit ‘mushy’ this was an enjoyable dish but probably not one I’d order again.
Deep Fried Fish Paste Ball: The last dish to arrive, each piece of this quintet was slightly larger than a golfball and sliced prior to presentation in order to facilitate cooling the flavor was largely like lightly sugared brandade while the texture was something akin to the egg custard; both perfectly suited to my palate and as such another favorite of the afternoon.
The Verdict: I’ll never pretend to be a dim-sum aficionado – it simply isn’t in my genes or my experience – but from my naïve Caucasian perspective Sea Harbour is turning out some great dishes to a throng of diners of various ages, ethnicities, and experience levels each and every day so they are clearly doing something very right and although I’m not sure I’d wait 2 hours during peak times I’d have no trouble justifying a return visit with the same folks or an even larger group in the future to try more of the menu.