Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DIM SUM - East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant, Elite Restaurant and Lunasia Chinese Cuisine - IN SAN GABRIEL VALLEY, LOS ANGELES

(L) Chicken Feet, (R) Sticky Rice Wrap
taken with iphone

Dim Sum is popularly known as a Cantonese dining experience associated with Chinese tea and small food dishes served during brunch-like hours. Dim Sum originated in southern China (the Guangdong province and Hong Kong) as a Cantonese tradition and its history is rooted with traditional tea houses found along the roadsides where many tired travelers and rural farmers would stop and rest. These tea houses initially only served tea, but expanded its offerings to include small snacks, which today has popularized into dim sum. For this reason, the words "yum cha", which literally means "drink tea", are words used synonymously with dim sum. (note: dim sum literally translates to "touch the heart"). Many Chinese families have dim sum on Sundays and use it as a way to get the family together. The traditional dim sum dishes include Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gau), Pork Dumpings, (Siu Mai), Steamed Roast Pork Buns (Cha Siu Bau), Fried Turnip Cake, Chicken Feet and Sticky Rice Wrap (see photos above). Dim Sum service hours vary, but typically is served daily from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., though if you go towards the end you may end up with very limited food items.

Choosing a Dim Sum restaurant is not easy, especially with the proliferation of restaurants in the highly populated Asian areas of Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley (and I'm not going to even mention Arcadia, Rowland Heights or Diamond Bar). But competition breeds better tasting foods and lower prices, which is what you should expect at Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

So how do you choose a good dim sum restaurant? Usually long lines outside a restaurant is a good barometer of how the food is, however, I found one restaurant that proved me wrong. So, when you're unsure, ask a few people who live there to get their opinions -- if you get the same answer from different people, you have your spot!

During my trip in Los Angeles, I visited three Dim Sum Restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley -- East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant, Elite Restaurant, and Lunasia Chinese Cuisine - and have provided my opinions on whether you should visit these places or if there are better neighboring restaurants nearby.

East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant - Rosemead, CA
8118 Garvey Avenue # A, (626) 288-9128
Dim Sum - 7 Days a week - 8:00 am - 3:00 pm

(L) Taro with meat covered with almonds, (R) Sticky Rice Wrap

I'm going to start this review by saying East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant was my favorite dim sum restaurant visit during this trip (and that's why the name of the restaurant is colored in green to indicate you should 'go'!). Why? The foods were tasty, in good portion size, and surprisingly priced inexpensively.

A few things to note:
  1. Sticky Rice Wrap ($1.98) - ABSOLUTE MUST ORDER! I loved this dish and as you can tell in the photo above, I had to stop myself so I could take a photo of it. Two takeaways from this dish are -- very flavorful and an abundance of meat. Some places skimp on the meat and leave you with too much rice, but East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant balances it perfectly to give you meat and rice with every bite!
  2. Staple items ($1.98) - Har Gao, Shiu May, Spare ribs with black bean sauce, Cha Siu Bau - all very good.
  3. Porridge with 1,000 year old egg ($1.98) - Very very tasty and can split this item into three bowls.
  4. Taro with meat covered with almonds ($1.98) - It looked good, but didn't taste as good as I thought it would. I would pass on this dish.
Sometimes I like to order a few special dishes with noodles to supplement the staple dim sum dishes (and is a good filler). At East Gourmet Seafood we decided to order the following...

$7.95 Lobster with Yee Mein Special ... "Wow, that's cheap!" was our reaction to this dish. The entree comes with one medium sized lobster cooked in garlic, scallions and yee mein. I had a similar dish in New York and this would easily cost $15 to $20 for one lobster with noodles, but you can order this for $7.95 in San Gabriel (why am I living in NYC again? haha). Since we thought it was a bargain, we ordered one for each of our tables and it turned out "just okay", which was a bit disappointing. The dish needed some more flavor - or salt ... But, the funny thing is, Chinese people can spot a deal when they see one, and that probably explains why I saw this special entree on every other table!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant. All the dim sum dishes were $1.98, yes that is not a typo, $1.98 for all dim sum dishes -- shrimp rice rolls, har gau, shiu mai, stick rice wrap, char siu bau, etc -- all of it! Dim sum is served seven days a week and you can believe that there are lines outside this restaurant! Only negative I would add to this review is that parking is terrible here due to the supermarket and other restaurants in the plaza. But overall, I will revisit this restaurant during my next trip to Los Angeles.

Elite Restaurant - Monterey Park, California
700 S. Atlantic Blvd, (626) 292-9888
Dim Sum: Mon - Friday 10-3 pm , Saturday-Sunday - 9 to 3pm

(L) Deep fried bean curd skin wrap (taken with iphone)

My opinion on Elite Restaurant was okay. There is not too much memorable things to say about this restaurant, other than it has taken over the old Diho Supermarket space. The only dish I enjoyed there was the deep fried bean curd skin wrap. The other staple dishes were okay and not oily. Elite Restaurant would serve as a quick and easy place to go if you have a craving for dim sum and if don't have much time on your hands. I prefer NBC Seafood restaurant up the street.

Lunasia Chinese Cuisine - Alhambra, CA
500 W. Main Street, Suite A,
(626) 308-3222
Dim Sum: Monday - Friday 10am - 3pm, Saturday, Sunday and Holidays 9am - 3pm

(L) Egg yolk bun, (R) Macao Roast Pork Belly - taken w/ iphone

Lunasia Chinese Cuisine was one of my least favorite dim sum spots during my trip (and I have colored it red to say "stop, don't go"). So I am wondering why there was a line outside? Is there only one dim sum restaurant on Main Street? That might be the reason since I thought most of the foods were saltier than usual, while other foods were tasteless! And to top it all off, the food was pricier than usual with small dishes at $2.38, medium dishes at $3.38, large dishes at $4.38, Speciality at $5.98 and KIT $6.98. If you didn't notice, the price increased incrementally by $1.00. For a look at the menu, click here.

Two interesting things to point out:
  1. Egg-yolk buns ($3.38) - I usually love this dish, however, Lunasia's version of this stands out from its competitors, and not in a good way. The cream inside was 'wet' and the fluids started oozing out of the bun once it was opened -- which proved to be an extremely messy dish. Taste? Sweet as it should be, but again, the textures, or I should say fluids streaming out of the bun was a big distraction from the taste. I would not order this again.
  2. Macao Roasted Pork Belly ($6.98) - Pork belly has become a trendy item to order and I would say this dish is similar to the roast pig orders from the Chinese bbq places. The crunchiness of the skin is great, however, the dish was over-salted and was too salty for my taste.
Overall, I would skip this restaurant if possible. The food does not justify the prices here. You're much better off traveling to Monterey Park for better dim sum options.

Side Notes: As I briefly mentioned above, there are a lot of Dim Sum Restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley and it is quite difficult to visit all of them during a trip. The aforementioned names are new restaurants that I tried, but in the past, there have been a few restaurants that have been good and I listed their names and addresses below.
  1. NBC Seafood Restaurant - 404 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA, (626) 282-2323
  2. Ocean Star Seafood - 145 N Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA, (626) 308-2128
Happy Eating in LA!

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