Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Capital - Rowland Heights



If there's one thing that the Chinese love more than good food, it's a good deal. Combine these two elements together and the result is a scene similar to a Saturday night rave or the NYSE trading floor on a Monday morning.

The siren call of $1.98 dim sum is louder than the thump of the techno beat or the clanging of the trading bell. This was what brought me and the throngs of others to New Capital Restaurant in Rowland Heights.

The restaurant -- situated up a flight of stairs in a Chinese-owned business enclave due east of the San Gabriel Valley -- felt like it was the epicenter of this weekend ritual; the Sunday morning dim-sum rush.



As always, a glut of people jammed the entrance with a blatant disregard for municipal fire codes. Elbowing my way inside to get a number for a table, I became a particle in a sea of bodies. The focal point of the chaos? The hostess' podium. This was Heaven's Gate and she was Saint Peter. To have your number announced by her on a raspy P.A. system was salvation.

Luckily for us, and despite the continuing influx of customers, we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before ours was called, accompanied by harps and an angelic chorus.



And since New Capital operates on the "roving cart" system, as soon as we sat, one rolled to a stop next to our table.

We pointed to a few goodies and promptly started noshing.



The seaweed salad sparkled in a bright emerald green -- a color that was as striking to the eyes as it was refreshing on the palate. The thin julienned ribbons was full of crunch and perfumed with the faint nuttiness of sesame.

A sugary glaze slathered the tops of the baked char siu buns, making the doughy domes gleam like mirrors. It came stuffed full of pork, suspended in Chinese BBQ sauce -- a syrupy sweet and dark elixir with the consistency of molasses.

The golden fried glutinous rice balls, which were gummy and sticky ovals, chewed like mochi but hid a savory center of chopped meat and gravy laced with five-spice.



Then there were the shrimp sticks; dreidels constructed from the pureed flesh of the crustacean. They're breaded with Panko, skewered on sugar cane stalks, and deep fried to a golden brown crisp.

Biting into a drumstick revealed the sea-sweet meat of many prawns, compacted into a bouncy pink ball of pure bliss. Once we picked it clean, we chewed on the leftover sugar cane and sucked on its nectar. We left nothing on the plate but masticated plant fiber. Finger food has never been this fun and scrumptious.



Steamed bittermelon was the platform for another dish, which cradled morsels of fatty pork and a thimble-sized cylinder of imitation crab. The melon was true to its name, packing within its cell-walls an astringency only appreciated by those who know it well. Its primary function was to counteract the porcine sweetness, which it did dutifully.



But there was another creation that flew in the face of the bittermelon. The same minced pork, jeweled with fat, crowned the top of a thick omelette base. American eggs and breakfast sausage never collaborated as successfully as these morsels did. Unctuously rich, teetering on the edge of overkill, we needed something afterwards to balance its full-bodied boldness.



The simply steamed Chinese broccoli fit the bill. Blessed with a deep chlorophyll green, the stalks were tender without being mushy, warm while still refreshing. Each spear and leaf exuded a pleasant vegetable bitterness (think spinach, but firmer).



Chopped thousand-year-old-egg lurked beneath the opaque and starchy rice porridge, giving the brew a uniquely old-school Chinese flavor. Traditionally, the therapeutic benefits of congee was used to nurse the sick back to health.

That morning, it nourished us too, providing a soothing respite from all the cholesterol and Atkin's-friendly protein we were consuming. Crunchy wonton strips and chopped scallions contributed fresh textures and herbiness.



Lacy balls of taro crumbled like fine French pastry and ate like Japanese korokke -- the crispy granules of the outer crust a perfect counter to the mashed taro root. Inside, a lightly curried filling awaits, like the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. I slathered mine with chili paste and ate it, followed by a swig of hot tea.

From the same cart, we grabbed some stuffed fried crepes. These thick parcels vaguely resembled mini Hot Pockets, but belonged to another class entirely. Chopped carrot, minced pork and shrimp lubricated in a light cream sauce were lovingly wrapped around thin sheets of crepe, then delicately breaded and fried.



Steamed fish paste seemed to be the running theme of another cart that rolled by. We chose two renditions of the ingredient, served in round metal steamers. One had the fish paste caked onto tofu and swimming in an oily gravy. The other had it plainly steamed; a naked threesome, huddled together in golf-ball-sized orbs.

The former had more depth because of salty oyster-sauce it was steeped in. But the latter had a cleaner taste, unobstructed and springy as if it were made out of edible Silly Putty.



A brick-sized block of tofu had a crispy, browned outer crust, sliced like Wonder Bread to reveal a white, virgin curd -- a smooth surface that was supple and silken to the touch. Since the quivering slab couldn't bear to stand upright under its on weight, I laid it down on a saucer and pushed it gently with a spoon towards my waiting mouth.



A translucent skin was wrapped around chopped Chinese chives for a set of attractive-looking dumplings. The grassy herb was held together with nothing but starch -- one of the few vegetarian items on the roster, but still oh-so-good.



Once we were sated, we waved our order sheet in the air -- a white flag to signal our surrender. Each stamp on the paper counted for $1.98, but the sum total was equal to a delicious brunch worth a dive into the mosh pit that is the Sunday morning dim-sum rush.

New Capital Seafood Restaurant
(626) 581-9813
1330 Fullerton Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

27 Comments:

At 10:33 AM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

hey I was in diamond plaza yesterday too, but I went for the Taiwanese restaurant next to New Capital instead... hehehe

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

$1.98 dim sum! That in and of itself is poetry to my ears! I'm glad you braved the pressing crowds for breakfast, your post was wonderful! (You gotta sometimes throw Kobe Bryant-style elbows in order to get past those old Chinese ladies, seriously.) From this post, it seems like you definitely get a variety of dim sum dishes. I generally, am not so open-minded to order bittermelon or sometimes even taro. I stick to the basics, like har gow and shao mai. I think I'll follow your lead next time I get dim sum though, your post was inspiring!

 
At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those bittermelon bases look more like wintermelon bases. Bittermelon is bumpier in texture and MUCH more bitter than wintermelon.

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Seth Chadwick said...

Elmo,

Why? WHY?!?!?! WHY O WHY can't we get even *expensive* and decent dim sum in Phoenix. It is all so uninspiried here. Alas, I shall have to live vicariously through your dim sum experiences until I get back to OC to see J.

Then, a field trip to Rowland Heights.

Great review!

 
At 7:11 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

Hi Seth, I used to live in Arizona, and there is a place in Phoenix to get dim sum! It is called China Doll and used to be in a Smitty's complex. However, I don't know if they still have "Smitty's" in Arizona, and I don't know whether they have China Doll! (I haven't been back to Phoenix in 7 yrs, but I think these are still good facts!)

Thanks for letting me use your blog to talk to others Elmo!

 
At 6:33 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Okay. That does it. I am telling Dave that we MUST get dim sum this weekend! Your post made me so hungry!
Oh. I recently found out that my mom takes bitter melon supplements. I offered to serve her some bitter melon with chicken, but I think she's scared to accept my offer. HA!

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Law said...

Another mouth watering inducing writeup. I've been jonesing for dim sum for weeks now and there you go and post that. Damn you! :-P

Sounds like an awesome place but the $1.98 cheap eats may be negated by the 50+ miles from my house in Ladera Ranch. :0( Actually, I must must must keep this place in mind next time I stay overnight on a Saturday in Hollywood, I'll know where to go the next morning to rejuvenate me.

Elmo, what is your pick for best dim sum in OC? I usually just go to Dragon Phoenix or Seafood World but I'm getting bored of them...

Thanks in advance.

 
At 2:58 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

冬冬,

That looks great too! That plaza is starting to be the most densely packed eating destination in Rowland Heights. There's an Indonesian place that just opened up in the same building as Vanille.

PE,

I was definitely body checking some folks as I went into that wall of bodies. But then other people were doing the same to me. Worth the $1.98 though. I'd do it again. Even with all the frenzy, the restaurant is very efficient and the wait staff weren't rude.

anon,

I checked with a friend who knows more about Chinese ingredients than I and she thought it could have indeed been bittermelon. I asked if it could've been winter melon, but she pointed out that winter melon is generally larger and more spherical. Some other theories: "hairy" melon or silk melon.

Anyone else have a guess?

Let's play "Guess the melon"!

Seth,

Sounds like P.E. has a dim sum tip in Phoenix. In O.C., dim sum houses are also scarce, but there a few that I enjoy in Irvine and Westmister. Although the ones in San Gabriel Valley and Rowland Heights are far tastier and cheaper too!

P.E.,

You're welcome to post as much as you want, anytime you want, to anyone you want! Just thanks for posting!

Juliet,

Get thee to a dim sum house! Have thee some shu mai. Eat thee some xia long bao. Sip thee some tea!

Law,

Actually there's one even closer to you. China Garden is my favorite in O.C. (although Seafood Paradise is alright). Here's a previous review I did on China Garden from a year ago.

BTW, if you do go the New Capital be sure to get there early! That place is CRAAAAZY after 11:00!

 
At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Seth Chadwick said...

PE and Elmo,

China Doll is long since gone. Closed its doors many years ago. And deservedly so. The place was a dinosaur with no heart or soul during its last two years.

Smitty's is also gone. In a very public and bitter battle, Smith's bought Smitty's and closed all their cheap, but tasty, diners ticking off a lot of people in Phoenix. Smith's then sold to Fry's.

So, again... WHY?!?!?!?!

*sobs quietly in a corner*

 
At 9:52 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

What?!? China Doll closed?!? They might as well have also closed Sky Harbor Airport!

*Like Mr. Seth Chadwick, Passionate Eater also sobs quietly in the corner.*

Wow, I used to eat at that place when I was a child. Although I knew that China Doll must have closed or gone under new management (it was getting run down when I last went), that breaks my heart.. Thanks for the update Seth. I hope you find a new place for dim sum in Phoenix. Are there any restaurants in the 99 Ranch complex?

Also, thanks again Elmo for letting me randomly start up conversations with others on your blog! Take care friend!

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Seth,

All the more reason for you to come and visit J. soon!

P.E.,

Mi casa es su casa!

 
At 5:29 PM, Blogger BoLA said...

Whoa! $1.98 dim sum? And only a 15 minute wait??? (Um...what time did you guys get there???) Dude!!! I need to go HERE!!! Your post was GREAT, as always. So deliciously written!

 
At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Hi Elmo - So that's what that unreal line was waiting for at 10 in the morning the last time I was at Diamond Plaza....man $1.98 Dim Sum. Not much else to say.....

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

BoLA,

I couldn't believe our luck myself! I think it was around 11:30 am, and a 15 minute wait. Kinda wierd actually now that I think about it. I doubt I will have the same luck next time.

Kirk,

That's $1.98 for every dim sum dish they got! No wonder eh?

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger eatdrinknbmerry said...

We have this in Monterey Park as well. But the place I like to go to for good deals/taste is Hop Li in Arcadia (Baldwin Avenue)... I believe the dishes are $1.60. Where do you go for dim sum in OC?

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger pinknest said...

oh how i want all of this now! i wish i had my own personal roving cart.

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Dylan,

China Garden is the place I go to for dim sum in OC. Either that or Sam Woo, which has really slipped over the years...And there is a new place that gets some ho-hums from other people who've tried it. It's called Russell's Seafood, close to the John Wayne airport. I'll probably check it out soon.

pinknest,

It's definitely a cool experience. Imagine if other things were served by roving carts. Fresh tacos. Pizza. Ice cream!

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous melonbar said...

I finally got to visit this place. If you can believe it, it's only $1.78 during the weekdays and there's no wait. We got there a bit late so I think they ran out of a lot of items I saw on your blog, elmo. But we did enjoy some delicious shu mai, char siu buns (so gooey!), and a ton of other goodies. The egg bun with the sweet filling was absolutely delicious; I'm still thinking about it now.

 
At 5:55 PM, Anonymous ray said...

Elmo,

Next time if you go to Nw Capital,
You need to try the deep fried crab with garlic, onion and pepper ....

 
At 1:08 PM, Blogger messyjessy said...

Geeze. I'm jealous. You can't be picky when it comes to Dim Sum in NC. I spent summers in NY and we always made several trips to china town for dim sum. Sometimes Fleshing but ususally all the way to the city. The Taro is one of my favorites. I'm drooling.

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

melonbar,

Holy smoke! This place is even cheaper on the weekday?! And you say there's no wait!?! I might have to take a day off to drive up there. Thanks for the report!

Ray,

Duly noted. I love that dish. Of course who doesn't love crab. And who doesn't like garlic?!

messyjessy,

Believe it or not, I've been to Flushing to eat dim sum, and I must say, it was really awesome at the time. But I think I have to give props to my West Coast Chinese cooks in the San Gabriel Valley for the best dim sum experiences of my life...and also the cheapest!

 
At 10:47 AM, Anonymous dav said...

It was a disgusting array of "wrongness". Went there for dim sum and left most of it on the table. Everything had a taste of dish soap (maybe hot water broken). The waiters hands were coated with either spilled tea or grease. I got handed a "new" cup with his finger prints. They guys don't say hot tea pot coming behind you, so he splashed some on my arm. Ordered the noodles, stir fry ... burnt like a victim. CSI couldn't even determine the identy. Although, the chips of the wok may be a clue. In an effort to refresh myself, went to the bathroom. Only I find vomit floating on the floor. A flooded toliet that no one wanted to touch. Nauseous, I ran out in a hurry. This has to be the worst of the top. Never going there again, unless its an empty lot. I left the waiters a tip ... take the leftovers home and management try to get a better grade than C.

 
At 11:31 PM, Anonymous ZoeZ said...

Mme Zoe and I took my cousin Julian just in from his home in France to this wondrous emporium of dim sum. He was overwhelmed by the room, the service, the buzz and the fact that at 10.15 on a Saturday morning we were the only non Asians in the place plus which it was his treat and for the three of us it was $27! He's ready for a re run.

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger momopi said...

This used to be Ruby, I liked their Dim Sum better in early days, before they went downhill and got bought out.

New Capital opens late and offers very inexpensive late-night dishes after 9:30pm'ish. I recommend eggplant dishes and the fried tofu, though the dipping sauce for the tofu is bad (just ask for soy sauce).

 
At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello everyone. i was just online to look for their number and i thought this post is so elequently put. In addition I thought you all want to know they have another resturant in san gabriel. this april they have moved from garvey in rosemead into focus plaza in san gabriel. 4th fl valley and del mar, cant miss it with ample parking underground as well.

 
At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goddamn. These are one of the best review of eateries I have ever seen. You the man. I particularly love your review of New Capital. I will read rest soon. Thankyou.

 
At 7:32 AM, Blogger Free Poker Capital said...

Looks like we need Cookiemonster here. Damn, i am so hungry.

 

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