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
1330 Fullerton Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748