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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dim Sum: Mission Impossible

I've been in a quest for good dim sum ever since I moved here about five years ago, and sadly, I have yet to find that perfectly steamed har gow in razor thin rice paper filled with plump shrimps -- yes, the kind served in those huge, bustling halls in Hong Kong.

True, I haven't looked that hard and barely made it to a few San Gabriel Valley favorites, but none has impressed me so far. Lately I have motivated myself to trek out there on a regular basis to check out various dim sum joints, including Triumphal Palace recommended by a trusted source for all things Chinese and auto-related, and The Kitchen recommended by J. Gold.

The first thing I liked about Triumphal Palace was the short wait and its manageable size. No throngs of large parties waiting outside for hours on end. This place doesn't do carts, and as much as I like to chase down the cart ladies while trying to understand what they describe is in the dim sum, no cart means it's all made to order -- hence, more fresh.

We ordered the usual suspects, such as shrimp dumpling, pea-tips and seafood dumpling, vegetarian dumpling, shanghai dumpling, BBQ pork buns and sticky rice in lotus leaf. They were acceptable, but the best was something new we tried, grandiosely called House Special Dumpling in Supreme Soup Stock. It is a deep-fried bean curd roll with a mix of carrots, bamboo shoots and green onions inside that comes in a surprisingly refreshing, clear broth (aka Supreme Stock).

My second favorite was the pea-tips and seafood dumpling, mostly because I happen to like the combination of shrimp and greens and the shrimp was fresh. In the same vein, the basic har gow shrimp dumpling was good but not fantastic. The steamed baby broccoli provided some much-needed fiber.

The shanghai dumplings were too dense and didn't have enough soup inside. There's a reason they are called soup dumplings. These didn't even give me the pleasure of poking a hole to let the hot steam out before biting into them. The BBQ pork buns were a bit too porky and fatty. I got the sense that the pork wasn't the best quality.

As for the Kitchen, it has some cart service but we mostly ordered off the menu. The only two standouts were the noodle dish with lobster that we ordered after our neighboring table started devouring its own; and the sweet green tea concoctions with red bean inside that I couldn't stop popping into my mouth.

The noodle dish seemed luxurious with its glistening lobster pieces in the shell and colorful vegetables sewn throughout the large plate. To be brutally honest, the dish looked better than it actually tasted, but that didn't stop me from deriving satisfaction whenever I scooped out a large piece of lobster meat from the shell.

The green tea rice cakes tasted like they were deep fried or maybe baked, but were perfectly soft and addictively just sweet enough. I couldn't stop eating them despite having reached my capacity for the day. It made me forget about my favorite dessert at dim sum joints -- the mini-custard pies.

One thing I noticed about both these places is that service was unusually courteous and attentive. I wasn't sure whether to be sorry the dim sum experience had become less authentic or glad I was finally getting refills of my chrysanthemum tea without having to chase down the wait staff. Whatever you do, try to get there before noon to avoid a wait. I would probably try them out for their regular menus as well.

Factoid: Dim sum literally means "touch the heart," or "order to your heart's content," but meaning "morsel/snack".

Triumphal Palace
500 W Main St Ste A
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 308-3222

The Kitchen
203 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 289-4828


persimmongirl said...

hm, you think dim sum is mission impossible in socal??!! try london. though i must admit that i like the dim sum at hakkasan and yauatcha, as stylishly slick (and therefore suspect) as they are (hakkasan even has a michelin star!) i'm hungry again reading your blog.

ironchef442 said...

i know. i think it's more a reflection of my laziness than it is of the state of dimsum in socal. i'm trying to get out to the real chinatown way east of here as much as possible but it's a bit of a trek. excuses, excuses. i've still got much to explore and it's definitely a luxury having so many options. i'm looking forward to dimsum in vancouver, where i'll be later this summer. will capture every dimsum moment on camera!

phasmatidae said...

Surprisingly, China Pearl in Boston has some of the best dim sum I've had IMHO. If you're ever in SF check out City View downtown -- delicious and inexpensive.

omurice said...

i liked triumphal palace more than kitchen. thought it was more flavorful while being less greasy. also liked the no waiting and clean atmosphere. guess i'm getting older if i like those kind of things.

ironchef442 said...

we must try other famed places like mission 261, sea harbour seafood and elite for the final verdict. must consult our trusted dimsum guru again.