Last year, an article came out that I immediately bookmarked. It was on AsiaSociety.com and it was written by a man named David Chan who ate at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants in America to determine the best. His list of the 10 Best was notable because all of the restaurants were in California, mostly Los Angeles. As he explained, “More wealthy/professional Chinese settle in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, and they demand, and can afford, a higher quality of Chinese food.” #2 on his list was a place called Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant and last week, I made plans to lunch there with my fellow food bloggers (and former Clean Plate Club guests) Ganda Suthivarakom and Zach Brooks.
What a privilege it is to live so close to such superior Chinese food. In New York, we were die-hard fans of Grand Sichuan, but never really ventured out for dim sum. Well, I did once and went on a Friday night, which was weird. Then we went back on a Sunday which was not weird at all. I think my resistance to dim sum in general had to do with those two experiences because I much prefer eating Chinese food at night or, if not at night, for lunch. I’m not so into eating it at breakfast, for whatever weird psychological reason. So dim sum was never really my thing.
But here in California, you can go to dim sum at lunch on a weekday and have an experience much closer to a Sunday morning experience in the sense that there will be crowds. Here’s the scene inside Sea Harbour last Tuesday:
Immediately, Zach and Ganda got busy studying the menu. I let them lead the charge though I offered suggestions like “DUMPLINGS” and “MORE DUMPLINGS.”
Oh, I should say this place has a menu because it’s not the kind of dim sum where they push carts around. The menu has lots of pictures, though, with corresponding numbers and you can circle those numbers on a piece of paper.
As we were studying and circling, a women did come around with a plate of dumplings and asked if were interested. “DUMPLINGS!” I said and nodded my head. Here they are.
These were super good; not notably different from your standard, everyday fried pork dumpling, but also that’s hard to screw up or improve upon. It’s just a great thing that you can eat and here we ate it first.
Then more interesting stuff arrived. Ganda put a bid in for braised lettuce (Zach held his tongue) and here it is with a dipping sauce:
I liked this for its clean, pure flavor–a refreshing foil for all the heavy food that was to come. Like these PORK BUNS:
Whoever thought of these deserves a medal. It’s like eating a doughnut except inside there’s sweetened pork, so it’s like dessert and dinner all at the same time. I could’ve eaten a whole plate of them. As it was, I ate just one and had to share the others.
Here’s something I didn’t like: chicken knees.
You heard that right–knees. I’ve had chicken knees once before, when I had yakitori in New York, and both then and here, I disliked the texture. You really crunch through that cartilage and you feel like a dinosaur or maybe a cannibal Tonya Harding? Also, I found the flavor to be weirdly gamey. I was not a fan.
But I was a HUGE fan of these next two plates:
On the left, beautifully made shrimp dumplings. On the right, more dumplings with shrimp but also fresh corn that really tasted of summer. These two bites alone were worth the long drive to Rosemead. Some of the best dumplings I’ve ever had.
These rice noodle cakes were delicious, gut-filling carb-bombs:
And Zach was like a little boy at a toy store when he saw another table eating turnip cakes from an edible bowl; he had to get one for us.
I actually found this a bit greasy and no one actually ate the edible bowl. But I’m still glad we got it.
Here’s another rice cake dish, this one with braised meat:
But the best moment by far came with the arrival of these:
They’re advertised as Steamed Buns with Preserved Salty Egg. I was dubious, at first, but then I took a bite.
Oh lordy. How to describe this? Imagine a rich dough–like brioche–that’s steamed and then filled with a yolky egg custard that’s salty AND sweet. So, basically, the world’s best doughnut that’s not a doughnut? I wanted to cry, this was so good.
And these were filled with condensed milk, so also desserty in a way:
But the final dessert was the one that caused some hysteria at the table. Hysteria because Zach cursed himself for not taking a video of me trying my first durian pastry:
I know durian has a reputation for having a terrible smell, but I didn’t know it’s in the taste too. I took one bite and almost lost all of that delicious lunch I’d just consumed. UGH!! Imagine something sweet that also tastes like cooked garlic and onions with a hint of raw sewage, and you get the idea. Ganda and Zach were highly amused but I was nothing but grossed out.
Still, one more bite of a salty egg bun and all my gladness was restored. This place really lives up to its reputation as one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country. I’ll definitely be back, but there won’t be any knees or durian pastries on my table. To quote a great poet, I “don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.”