Friday, May 30, 2008

Sea Harbour - The Best Dim Sum in L.A.!

Continuing on the tour of wonderful Dim Sum restaurants in Southern California (and as previously posted, a "comfortable cuisine" I've never gotten around to writing about), is Sea Harbour in Rosemead, California. As with Elite, Sea Harbour is another of the top Dim Sum restaurants in L.A., and wildly popular: If you show up after 10:00 a.m. on the weekends, expect to wait anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours(!). Its popularity is warranted, due to the quality of ingredients, wonderful variety and unique spin on traditional items.

I've been to Sea Harbour numerous times, from the very first month it opened years ago, through today. It's always been consistently great for Dim Sum, but I've always taken it for granted. I wrangled up a couple Dim Sum Hounds today to see how it stood up after all these years, and how it compared to our experience at Elite just the other day.

We arrived bright and early, at 9:45 a.m., to beat the crowds, and there were already ~30 people in line! We got seated promptly and glanced at the menu. One thing that's really nice about Sea Harbour is that they have Seasonal Dim Sum Menus. They change their menu a few times a year (a rarity amongst Dim Sum restaurants), and today was a new menu, with most of their popular items intact, in addition to some new offerings.

(Note: As with the Elite review, please forgive my mangled Chinese romanizations; I'm no expert on the language. :)

We chose Ju-Bu Tea, a combination of Chrysanthemum Flower and Pu-Erh Teas. It's my favorite Tea to pair with Dim Sum, and Sea Harbour offers the full selection of choices from the above two teas, to Asphodel, Jasmine, Iron Goddess of Mercy, etc.

The first dish to arrive was the traditional Chinese Broccoli dish (we wanted to get some greens today so that we wouldn't overdose on all the meat :). Zuo Jien Jie Lan (Poached Chinese Broccoli).

As its name implies, it's simply poached Chinese Broccoli in a broth, served with a side of Oyster Sauce for dipping. It came out perfectly poached (as usual), and the Jie Lan vegetables were nice and "meaty", with the leaf portions fresh and tender as well.

Next up was one of my favorite traditional Dim Sum dishes, Huh Hsiang Nuo Mi Ji (Sticky Rice Wrapped w/ Lotus Leaf). Sea Harbour's version is the best version of Nuo Mi Ji that you can find in L.A. They still use the traditional method of wrapping the Nuo Mi Sticky Rice and all the contents in the Lotus Leaf (instead of parchment), and thus, the wonderful fragrance of the Lotus Leaf permeates each bite of this dish. Sea Harbour's version also includes a Salted Duck Egg Yolk with the ground marinated Pork, and the combination of these ingredients is wonderful!

Next up, was a new item on their updated / Specials Menu: Jing Ying Dahn Jie Tsai Ruo Pien Joh (Duck Egg with Jie Tsai Vegetable and Pork Slices in Congee ). This was a nice variation on the typical Jook / Cantonese Porridge, with the Duck Egg pairing nicely with the slightly bitter, herbal Jie Tsai Vegetable, and the meaty Pork Slices. The consistency of the Congee was perfect. I've always had great Congee / Jook here at Sea Harbour over the years, and today was no different.

For those that want to splurge, you can order Fresh / Live Lobster, Geoduck, or Abalone cooked with fresh Congee for Market Price. :)

Next up was a classic of Dim Sum cuisine: Yue Zi Shao Mai Huang (Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumpling). Sea Harbour's version of this classic dish was excellent and high-quality as usual. I found this version to be a much better balance of nice chunks of Shrimp with Marinated Ground Pork (along with the Capelin Fish Roe), versus Elite's version, which had too much Shrimp. The Shao Mai was well cooked, and very tender and juicy, with the Pork and Shrimp combining wonderfully.

Next up was another staple of HK / Cantonese Dim Sum: Shwei Ping Hsia Jiao Huang (Crystal Shrimp Dumpling (Ha Gau)). It was perfectly steamed so that the skin was still tender and moist, and the Shrimp inside the dumplings were fresh and juicy.

One new style Dim Sum dish that remains on the new Seasonal Menu is one of my long-time Sea Harbour favorites: Liang Gua Ji Hsi Chang Fen (Steamed Rice Noodle w/ Shredded Chicken and Bitter Melon). For those that've never tried Chinese Bitter Melon, as the name implies, it's a melon that can be quite bitter depending on the cooking style and preparation. This is a Sea Harbour creation, and it's executed wonderfully: The Bitter Melon is only slightly bitter, and it provides the perfect foil for the marinated Chicken and Steamed Rice Noodles.

We tried another new item on their Seasonal / Specials Menu: Chohng Chao Hwa Shao Mai (Marinated Ground Pork with Chohng Chao Flower Dumpling). I've never seen this at any Dim Sum restaurant before and we were all eager to try it. Chohng Chao Flower is a treasured Herb / Flower used by Chinese Herbalists, so it's pretty interesting to find it in Dim Sum.

Visually, when the dish first arrived, it looked like a plain Shao Mai Dumpling with dark specks. However, upon the first bite, it was apparent that the chefs at Sea Harbour created another standout item on their Seasonal Menu! The Chohng Chao Flower lends a really unique flavor to the Shao Mai, a flavor I've never experienced before. It had a complex, earthy, uniquely herbal flavor, slightly floral and combined with the marinated ground Pork, it was excellent!

Continuing on, we ordered another of the more exotic Sea Harbour Dim Sum: Zhong Shan Jing Za (Steamed Pork Dumpling Zhong Shan Style). They used a nice, thicker rice-based skin on the outside, and steamed three dumplings. It looked interesting, but after taking a bite, disappointment set in: It wasn't that it was "bad" or anything, but the inside of the Zhong Shan Dumpling was nothing more than a fancy version of the filling for Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns). It was slightly sweet, with simple chunks of Pork and diced vegetables. It was certainly more complex from the typical Char Siu Bao, but not enough to standout from that flavor association. We felt it was nicely steamed, but the flavors were typical.

Continuing on, we tried their Yue Ci Fohng Yen Jiao (Shark's Fin Scallop Dumpling), literally "Shark's Fin Phoenix Eye Dumpling." It was a perfectly steamed dumpling of Shrimp, topped with a tender Scallop, topped with Shark Fin and Capelin Roe. It's a "fancier" dish for Dim Sum, and the Scallop, Shrimp, Roe and Shark Fin made for a wonderful combination.

Sea Harbour's only failure on their new Seasonal Menu would have to be the Mei Zi Zhen Zhu Li (Plum Steamed Pork Tongue). Amongst the group of Hounds today, Lengua (Beef Tongue) is always a favorite, so when we heard they had Pork Tongue, we had to try it. :) Sadly, it was extremely tough and chewy (the complete opposite of Lengua). The Chinese Plum (Mei Zi) lent a nice flavor contrast to the savory Pork, but the Pork Tongue itself was just too tough and chewy.

As a nice rebound, Sea Harbour's Dai Zi Bai Yu Zhu (Steamed Egg Tofu with Fresh Scallop in Dry Scallop Sauce) is perfectly executed (as usual): A nice slice of Tender Tofu, topped with a Fresh Scallop and Capelin Roe, all in a very light Soy Sauce-based Broth. It's very light and a nice contrast to the saltier / richer dishes on the menu.

For Dessert, Sea Harbour's execution of the classic Dim Sum Tofu Flower is consistently great: Shan Shwei Dofu Hwa (Sweet Tofu Pudding). The Silken Warm Tofu is served with a side of Liquid Pure Cane Sugar, so you can decide how sweet you'd like your Tofu Flower. It's perfectly prepared, with a hint of fresh Ginger.

We decided to try two of the new Seasonal Menu items. First up was the Sha Shi Lue Cha Guo (Special Green Tea Dumpling). Visually striking, each sweet "dumpling" was wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The green color came from a reduction of Green Tea, coloring the rice, and it was topped with Black Sesame Seeds. While it was visually engaging, the inside of each of these dumplings was even more of a surprise! At the center of the sticky rice was Peanut, Coconut and Tapioca. This was essentially a small, steamed, compartmentalized dumpling version of the Southeast Asian dessert "Muo Muo Za Za"! It took all of us by surprise, but it was a nice one. :)

Perhaps the saddest thing about Seasonal Menus is that some of your favorite items may be dropped: This happened twice already with one of my favorite desserts (on the menu one season, then off, then put back on the following season, etc.). Currently, the replacement for that "ball dumpling" dessert is the Jing Sah Tahng Yuen (Sticky Rice Ball Stuffed with Salty Egg Yolk) (a terrible translation on the menu :). We ordered it and wondered if this would be like a Moon Cake, or something similar.

The Sticky Rice Ball arrived, in a fierce golden color. It was piping hot, and after letting it cool down slightly, I cracked it open to reveal the inside: It was a Sweet Liquefied Duck Egg Yolk, similar to what they use in a Nai Wong Bao, but contained inside a deep-fried Sticky Rice Ball!

The flavors were amazing, and this was one of the most interesting, and tasty desserts I've had at Dim Sum since my favorite dessert came on the menu when Sea Harbour first opened. (^_~)

Overall, it came out to be $20 per person for this meal (including tax and tip), but that price changes dramatically depending on what you order (Note: individual Dim Sum small plates range from $2.28 to ~$7 depending on the dish). On average over the years I've been to Sea Harbour and most recently, we average about ~$15-17 per person (including tax and tip already), which is very reasonable given the great quality of food and variety.

Sea Harbour made a huge splash when it arrived in the San Gabriel Valley years ago, with its New Style Dim Sum menu, focus on quality, unique dishes, and consistency, and years later, it continues to deliver. From the Seasonal Menu, to the unique dishes - Goose Liver Wontons, or Nankotsu (Chicken Cartilage), Salt & Pepper style - to the consistent, great quality, Sea Harbour serves the best Dim Sum in Los Angeles.

(If you plan on visiting during a weekend and want to beat the crowds, show up by 9:45 a.m.)

Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0)

Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant (Hai Gahng Dah Jio Loh)
3939 N. Rosemead Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91770
Tel: 626-288-3939

Dim Sum Hours: Mon - Fri, 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Sat, Sun & Holidays, 10:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite dim sum restaurants (the other one is NBC).
The price is slight higher, but you can really taste the quality differences.
I wrote an blog entry about the restaurant here:
Sorry it's in Chinese, but you can see the pictures. ^^

Exile Kiss said...

Hey Eileen,

Thanks for the link; very nice pictures! :)

Yah back in the day, my friends used to bring me to try NBC and it was awesome! It's just sad that it has degraded a bit over time. When it was at the top of its game, it was the best Dim Sum in LA.

Cool that you like Sea Harbour as well (^_~). As you say, you can definitely taste the quality difference compared to most Dim Sum places around here.

Epicuryan said...

Did you head here on Urasawa-san's recommendation?

Have you tried the bird's nest, shark's fin, or abalone there?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Tangbro1,

Nope. I knew about Sea Harbour years before I went to Urasawa. :) The first time I went to Sea Harbour was during it's first month or so of operation, and have been going there ever since.

I haven't tried their Bird's Nest, Shark's Fin or Abalone there yet. I need to gather enough of my Hounds that love Chinese food and try it out sometime (whenever we have a reason to celebrate something, we always go somewhere else :). I'm definitely curious how it stacks up to the amazing Shark's Fin and Abalone I had at a specialist in Taipei and Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

I was just saying the same thing. Sea Harbor is clearly the best Dim Sum in LA. Thanks for the great blog.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks. :) I'm glad you enjoyed Sea Harbour as well.

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