Here, finally, is a report on our first meal on our Southern California trip in December. This was originally scheduled to be a sushi meal. We were supposed to arrive right before lunch time and the plan was to stop in Torrance for lunch at Nozomi before heading to Seal Beach. But our flight was delayed by more than three hours, and by the time we got our bags and picked up the rental car there was no way we could have made it to Nozomi before they closed for the afternoon. And so we changed the call to dim sum—after sushi, the other genre of food our family loves that we can only get very inferior versions of in Minnesota. Of course, you wouldn’t think that if your only source of information was the local Minnesota food press. According to them, there is very good dim sum available in Minnesota. Just recently a popular food website gave yet another rave review to Mandarin Kitchen, a restaurant at which we’ve only had farcical experiences (the most recent one reviewed here). As such, we always make it a point to eat dim sum at least once on our Southern California trips. And on this trip it was on the very first day. How did it go? Read on.
We’d eaten two dim sum meals on our trip in the summer. Of the two we’d liked our lunch at Dim Sum 101 in Lomita quite a bit more than the other (at J. Zhou in Tustin). Dim Sum 101’s menu was limited but everything was done really well and, unlike at J. Zhou, the prices were reasonable. We’d assumed that they would become our South Bay mainstay for dim sum. Alas, they closed last fall. My disappointment was assuaged somewhat when I learned that a new location of Alhambra’s Lunasia had just opened in Torrance. We’ve eaten excellent dim sum at Lunasia, Alhambra in the past (reviewed here and here) and it seemed a good bet that this would be a very good meal too. Well, it certainly wasn’t a bad meal—and was laughably superior to anything available in Minnesota—but it was not up to the standards of the mothership.
The restaurant is located in the Rolling Hills Plaza off Pacific Coast Highway and is quite attractive. The indoor seating is not as large or fancy as at Alhambra but there is also a very attractive covered patio. Alas, they wouldn’t let us sit there even though it was empty except for one party finishing up their meal. It wasn’t very crowded indoors either, however, and so we accepted a table in the narrower part of the dining room by the side of the kitchen. As at the mothership, and as at all the better dim sum houses in Southern California and Hong Kong, there are no carts here. You order off the menu and everything comes out fresh from the kitchen. As of December, the menu was available only via scanning a QR code and then ordering online. Masked servers then brought the food out as it became ready. I am not a big fan of QR code menus—especially when a place has a very large menu as Lunasia does—but I am a fan of restaurants continuing to be cautious and so I was happy to go with it.
What did we get? Many of our old favourites:
- Congee with minced pork and century egg. Very, very good.
- Har gow. They call them jumbo har gow and they’re massive. These were good but not great, with the wrappers a little too thick.
- Pork shiu mai. Also jumbo and even better. As our boys inhale shiu mai at an alarming rate, we got two orders of these so we could all eat at least one.
- Shanghai soup dumplings. Even though I know these are never going to be great at dim sum houses, I can never resist ordering them. These were fine.
- Steamed chicken feet. A family favourite, these had good flavour but were slightly flabby.
- Scallop dumpling with squid juice. The dumplings are coloured black with squid ink and topped with flying fish roe. It would have been an arresting presentation if served a little less sloppily. And the dumplings themselves were slightly over-steamed.
- Pan-fried turnip cake. This classic was the big disappointment. The turnip was a bit lumpy and the cake was on the drier side.
- Sticky rice in lotus leaf. Thankfully, this classic was done very well.
- Deep-fried calamari with salt and pepper. This was excellent, from the perfect fry job to the seasoning.
- BBQ pork buns. These were fine.
- Macau-style egg custard. These were quite good.
Yes, it was a lot of food for two adults and two children (though one of those children was a month away from turning 14 at the time of this meal and is beginning to put it away pretty well). But we are famously greedy and it had been a long time since breakfast in Minnesota. Still, we took a few leftovers home for breakfast the next day.
For a look at the restaurant, the menu and the food, click on a pic below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down to find out how much it cost and to see what’s coming next in restaurant reports.
Only one thing was bad per se (the turnip cake). Everything else ranged from good to very good. Again, by Minnesota standards this meal was off the charts but in Southern California you can do a lot better in places with larger Chinese populations than in Torrance. Especially, when you factor in the price. With tax and tip the total came to just below $130. Quite a bit more than our meal at Dim Sum 101 ($87) and only a little lower than our meal at J. Zhou ($138), which did involve some fancier preps. With Dim Sum 101 now gone, this means that our future dim sum outings will take us to the San Gabriel Valley when we have more driving time and probably back to J. Zhou when we don’t.
Alright, I’m now well into my December Southern California reports. Next weekend I’ll report on the Nozomi sushi meal that we were supposed to eat this day but in fact ate the next. Before that I’ll have another Delhi report and possibly a Minnesota report as well (on either an immigrant market or a Chinese restaurant).