Dim Sum at Lunasia, Again (Los Angeles, January 2019)

Dim sum is always high on our eating agenda when visiting Los Angeles. While there are some in the Twin Cities who seem to genuinely believe that there is dim sum here as good as anywhere else in the US, this has not been our experience in the 12 years we have been eating dim sum in Minnesota. And believe me, I would really, really love it if that were true. There are indeed cuisines and culinary genres in which the Twin Cites now have solid representation that matches well with all but the biggest and most diverse metros but dim sum is not one of those. On our trip to LA this winter, however, dim sum was not very high on my agenda. This because I was just a few weeks away from having eaten a number of dim sum and other dumpling-related meals in Hong Kong (see here). The missus, of course, was having none of that, not having been in Hong Kong with me. And so off we went to the San Gabriel Valley, the day before our return to southern Minnesota. Usually we’d go to Sea Harbour or Elite but on this occasion we decided to go back to Lunasia. We really enjoyed our meal there a few years ago with Sku and his family. Alas, the families couldn’t get together for dim sum on this trip—though we did eat some excellent Korean food together (on which more soon)—but we did manage to enjoy this outing by ourselves.

We were there for lunch on a Thursday but still encountered a wait of about 30 minutes for a table of four (it was us and our brats). However, I doubt this is typical for most weekdays—this was early January and there were lots of large family parties. Whatever the reason, it was jammed and the kitchen was hopping. Lunasia, like all the better dim sum houses in the LA area, does not have carts. You order a la carte and everything comes out fresh from the kitchen as it’s prepared. There is a picture menu that shows you what everything is and how much it costs—you consult that and mark your selections on a sheet. And then the good stuff comes out.

On this occasion we stuck largely to our favourites: pork shiu mai, (giant) har gow, pan-fried turnip cakes, steamed chicken feet, congee, shen jian bao, baked barbecue pork buns. In addition, we got their scallop dumplings made with squid ink and a plate of deep-fried calamari. We were hoping to order deep-fried smelt but not only did they not have it, our server behaved as though he had never heard of such a thing. Then again he also denied the existence of chiu chow dumplings and so may not have been the most reliable guide to what was available. This was not the only iffy part of the service but before I get to that below, please launch the slideshow for pictures of the restaurant and the food.

I have already mentioned our server’s unreliability with dishes that are not strangers to the dim sum menu. He was also very hard to find throughout the meal for things like water, drinks, condiments, extra orders etc. Yes, they were completely slammed and may have been short-staffed but even by the brusque standards of the SGV he was somewhat negligent.

The food, however, made up for this. It was all very good with the shiu mai, har gow and shen jian bao the particular highlights. The proximity of my Hong Kong meals made it hard to have any illusions about the relative quality between the best of the San Gabriel Valley and the best of Hong Kong (and Lunasia is not quite the best of the San Gabriel Valley anyway) but it did not feel like a pale imitation, which is what our dim sum meals in the Twin Cities too often feel like. Cost? The total came to about $90 with tax and tip. Four adults could have happily eaten what we ordered, which would make it about $23/head. That’s about what we pay in Minnesota for dim sum of far lower quality. That doesn’t seem right.

Okay, just one more LA report from this trip to go. That is of a very offal-centric Korean meal eaten with Sku and co. I will try to knock that out this week and become current with my restaurant reports (right in time for a week in Montreal and Toronto on work which will doubtless take me a couple of months to report on as well).

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