Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Sea Harbour Dim Sum - Rowland Heights

Dim sum. How different would it taste without the wait? If it is true that the spring wouldn't be as sweet if there was no winter, dim sum must taste proportionately better the longer the wait, right?

That's what I told myself when I was stuck in dim sum purgatory this past weekend at Sea Harbour in Rowland Heights.

The hostess, presiding over a podium with a notebook and a stack of paper scraps printed with numbers, handed me one with "91" on it. "Twenty to thirty minutes," she said. No problem. We can do thirty minutes.

The dim sum waiting room was full of people like us, standing around, sitting, milling, twiddling thumbs. Old Chinese ladies with sleepy eyes. Spiky haired teens with Gap ensembles. Families with smiling toddlers in tow. We were all there waiting for a taste of what would be our lunch.

Thirty minutes came and went without our number being called. Hmm, what's the hold up? My stomach growls.

Thirty five minutes. The hostess announces another number, in Mandarin first and then in English if she doesn't get a response. We find that it wasn't "91".

Forty minutes. Another number. Nope that's not ours either. But at least they're up to the 80's. We could be next! I shift in my seat. The faces in the crowd blur. Hey, these people waiting. They're new. New faces. That means we're definitely next! "Seventy-five. Number seventy-five!" WTF!?! Why are they going backwards? Maybe we should get a snack. It's 1:30 already! Aren't you hungry? I'm hungry. I am reminded of the Chinese restaurant episode on Seinfeld.

Fifty minutes. Okay. Any time now. "Ninety-one. Number ninety-one!" Woo hoo! That's us! That's us! We leave the dim sum limbo, and all those hungry saps still in it.

We enter an elegant space, clean white linen tablecloths, sparkling overhead lights, the aroma of food. Are we in heaven? Might as well be.

We quickly jot down our order on the provided sheet of paper, which has nothing but Chinese characters on it. This isn't a roving cart kind of place, so we carefully pick from the photo menu and transcribe the numbers onto our order sheet.

The prices range from $1.98 for the Small, $3.20 for Medium, and $3.95 for Large.

First to come was the Tofu in Abalone sauce, which was silky smooth. The mild-tasting custard of the tofu a perfect blank palette for the briny brown gravy and diced scallions garnish. The texture was so supple and soft that slurping is probably the only way to not waste a single curd.

The Spare Ribs was luscious and fatty; just the way I like it. Sweet and tender, I the meat came off the bone with a gentle tug. The flavor of fermented black bean was absent from this dish, but I didn't miss it. There was nothing obscuring the pig flavor and essence from reaching my palate.

The Juicy Pork Dumplings, came in tight purses which burst with hot broth when I bit into it. These rival those I've had at Din Tai Fung, although I missed the tangy tartness of the vinegar dip that is normally served on the side. I rely on that vinegar to cut through the fatty pork, but this time, Sea Harbour only provided a saucer of soy with a dab of shredded ginger. Still great though.

Next was the Shrimp Wrapped in Rice Noodle. The rice noodles were pleasantly chewy and soft, but the shrimp had a little too much cornstarch which muted its freshness. The thin soy sauce "broth" that doused it was perfect and slightly sweet.

The Seafood Roll was the standout of the savory dishes we had. Crepes were stuffed with mayo and large chunks of scallops and shrimp, then breaded and deep fried. A textural contrast of the crispy and creamy. A few sips of hot tea will be necessary to offset the richness of this dish.

We ended our meal with another fried dish. This time it indulged our sweet tooth. The Fried Banana had a hard outer coating, massively crunchy. The interior was the exact opposite; the banana was so soft, it oozed. There was a thimble sized nub of sugary red bean paste hidden inside as well; a pleasant surprise.

The final sweet dish was the Mango Pudding in a puddle of sweetened milk. This puts every other mango pudding dessert I've had at dim sum restaurants to shame. Why? This actually tasted like mango! Silken, pulpy pieces of the fruit was embedded within and all throughout. Unlike those lesser renditions that rely on orange food coloring for brightness, Sea Harbour's mango pudding took their cue from nature. And just look at that cute heart-shaped mold they used. Just darling!

From dim sum purgatory to dim sum heaven in 50 minutes!

Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
(626) 965-2020
1015 Nogales St
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

*Note: The Rowland Heights Sea Harbour has been sold. It is now called Happy Harbour.


At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo - Nice! So worth the wait? I'd never wait for an hour. But it sure does look good! We used to go as early as "strategically" possible.

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Professor Salt said...

Nice post. Must be soup dumpling day, what with photos on both our blogs!

I usually end up at the giant Sam Woo Seafood and Dim Sum Arena & Convention Hall across the street when the line at Sea Harbour gets this bad.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yeah, worth the wait...but next time, I think I'm coming at 10:00. Though it wasn't too unbearable since we were inside a nice wait room with A/C.


That's what happened last time we tried Sea Harbour...ended up at Sam Woo...good dim sum there, but we set our hearts to Sea Harbour this time...didn't regret it.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

this so weird... I've been to sea harbour dozens of times, yet I haven't tried 1/2 of the stuff you ordered! hahaha... I guess I'll have to stop ordering the same food every time~~ :)

btw, I HATE that stupid intersection that turns into the restaurant mall. It's always packed. :( and it's always such a pain to find parking in the parking lot...

At 8:20 AM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

btw, if you go there enough times, the hostess will actually let you call in and make reservation so you don't have to wait.. *wink* You did not hear this from me though hehe.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I also hate that intersection. I actually ALWAYS avoid it by exiting on Walnut and going down that side street that leads up to the mall itself.

Actually, I order the same stuff all the time too, at every dim sum house, it's always the same stuff. Gotta stick with what you like. Although next time I think I might try some of their signature stuff, like the duck liver dumplings.

Thanks for the tip on reservations!!

At 9:29 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Yup...those banana fritters were just unbelievably good. I've never had fried bananas like these anywhere else in my life.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...


nice post--sea harbor is one I have yet to try.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

And just like that Seinfeld episode, I noticed a few people slip in with a wink from the hostess. Still worth the wait regardless.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Mona said...

wow, leaves me really wanting some dim sum right now. my boyfriend had it the other day and i wished i could have joined him...i don't really get lunch breaks :(

At 5:34 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Mona, lunch breaks?! Here's hoping you get to your sushi heaven soon!

At 4:53 PM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...

Awesome review as always, Elmo. You have me drooling here in Phoenix, which, with an exception or two, is fairly devoid of decent Dim Sum.

I may have to drive on over to OC and invite you to a joint review. :o)

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo--
Just wanted to let you know that because of your awesome, extensive reviews, I finally was persuaded to dive in and do a Viet restaurant. The first time I tried one, many years ago, was not a pleasant experience, but felt ready to try it again.

My DH and I went to Pho Lau(recommended by his Viet barber) on the corner of Magnolia & Garfield in FV. You should also know that because of you, Prof. Salt and MEalC, I recognized so many of the items on the menu, and felt right at home. BTW, I should mention my DH used to work in Anaheim, so he's more of a aficiando than I.

That said, we ordered:

Spring rolls (goi cuon-4 cuon) with noodles, pork, shrimp and vegetables.
These rolls were amazing. The pork was slightly sweet (just how you've described it), the shrimp, big, fresh and pink. It came with the peanut sauce you also promised would be with every Viet dish. ;-)

Not knowing how big the portions would be, we ordered A LOT.

2 'Rice dishes' which came with wonton soup and salad. The wonton soup had fresh wontons in it, and a broth that was beefy and strong. I suspect that this would be the same broth that is in their pho.

My DH ordered a filet mgnon and rice combo,(Com Bo Luc Lac) that came with rice on the side. The beef was cubed, tender and in a fantastic sauce.

We also ordered the Combo stir fry (Com Zao Thap Cam) which had shrimp, beef, chicken, squid, fish ball served with rice.

And if that wasn't enough, we also got a rice noodle bun, (Bun Tom Cha Gio Thit Nuong) that was my favorite. A huge steaming bowl served over vermicelli, with vegetables, mint underneath, and of course, the noodles, shredded carrot, egg rolls, pork and shrimp.

I found everything to be tasty, fresh and flavorful. Like I said, the spring rolls and bun my favorites. We'll definitely be back.

We got out of there for $35 incl. tip, which we thought was great. We'll be back again.

I'm not half as descriptive as you are in your posts, but hope you get the general flavor (ha ha) of our experience.

At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo - Was back in the "old neighborhood" today - so I drove into the 99 Ranch Market Mall to check this place out! My God, it's Psychotic! You deserve a medal for sticking this out! Needless to say I ended up at someplace else....

At 8:53 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I'm always glad to be able to induce drool with posts! It truly is one of the best places for dim sum (at least for now) in L.A.


I'm so happy to read about your experience. I haven't tried the place you mentioned but it sounds great! It definitely sounds like you got a good sampling of the best of Vietnamese cuisine. Bo Lu Lac is one of my favorite preparations of simple, yet so flavorful. The steak just barely cooked and mouth-meltingly tender. Sounds like you had a good version too! And you got bun too! I too love this dish...especially in hot weather.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Thanks again for your delicious review!


Told ya! It's insane! And I probably won't try again myself if I get there past 11:00 am.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I meant, "dim sum" heaven...I must have had dinner in mind already when I wrote that!

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so how does the dimsum compare with New Capital Seafood ?

At 5:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I'd say Happy Harbor and New Capital are both good. But because of the price, I'd give New Capital the edge. I'm just a cheapskate that way.

Here's my review of New Capital.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After waiting for over an hour my party of 11 asked the hostess why it was taking so long to be seated when we noticed that several other large groups that arrived after we did were seated ahead of us. After being given the run around by the management and being told that we would have to continue waiting, I told the manager that was unacceptable and we left. My party was mixed race with half white and half chinese. My chinese friends were embarassed as it was their impression that we were being bypassed on the list because some of us were white. If you wish to eat at an establishment that discriminates and treats it's customers rudely then this is a place for you. However, if you perfer to dine at a place that has charator and integrity, dine elsewhere. My friends and I have pledged to never visit this place again.

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An item on the menu that's worth even more than an hr wait is the 'feng sha bao' - wind sand bun! The custard is simply heavenly, unlike any that i've ever had before.

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

u can reserve a table if there are more than 10 people


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