Like any red-blooded Chinese, I love my Chinese food, and some good dim sum. (That would be the equivalent of brunch, for the Americans, and Tea Time for the Brits.) Not the imposter half-assedly-done ones, but the real kind that I grew up on. Monterey Park- San Gabriel area is not short of restaurants and ones serving dim sum, but finding one that serves a wide variety and serves them well, is a little trickier. I’ve tried about a couple handful of such establishments, and a couple is impressive enough to return to. But hey, this girl can’t ever resist the challenge of finding a restaurant better than the one before. And if she can secure another place to get her shiu mai, har kow and jellyfish fix, then that’s just good ol’ insurance! Smart girl (pat myself on back).
Apparently I am behind in times. Words spread fast over newly open restaurants in this part of the city. What I’d thought to be a fairly new joint has been open for maybe a year and has garnered too many fans. This means I had to haul my ass off bed earlier so I could make it here by 10:30 am on a fine Sunday morning. Man I miss the days I could lazily head for dim sum at 11:30 or noon. And when we arrived, there was still a wait (there’s been one since 10 I think). It’s like a race, this whole experience, one that surely tests your family bond and your virtue. You race to get out of the house, race to drive over, race to find parking, race to get to the host table to get a number, and then race to sit when they yell out your lucky number. My peeps (and my fam) take their food seriously. No shame in that. Just some disgruntle, I guess. Could be worse.
Usually we’d still be racing to get at the food in carts, before the next table sees them. But upon sitting, disappointment came over me for a minute. No carts! In place of that, there are menus and you order the items with the wait staff. BLASPHEMY! Dim Sum without the carts, being pushed and shuffed around, and the yelling, just aren’t quite the same. This place is a little too cultured. The rush, pleasure and high I get from peeking into the carts, and picking out what I want (from purely seeing how the food looks) were not there this day. I just secretly wished the food was fantastic enough to make me miss out on those carts.
Turns out, I didn’t miss the carts much. Sure the excitement level was somewhat low, and the ordering process too quiet and smooth and refined for the usually loud and unruly dim sum experience. But who needs all that, when the food spoke for itself? Elite delivered in almost everything we tried. Only one thing we won’t be craving again, so that’s an accomplishment.
The meal started with the Beef Chow Fun. Since everyone was hungry and too eager to wait before jumping in, i forgot to snap for pictures. Whoops! Let me try to do justice to it: The beef was sliced perfectly thin, well seasoned and charred enough. Bean sprouts, eggs and the beef slices mix well with the noodles and are wok-fried to greasy goodness. I should warn you that 90% of things you get at Dim Sum are oily and greasy, and unabashedly so. That’s why we have tea people, to cut the oil. Oh, and I don’t know why not more Asian people are fat! Stop asking me that. Maybe the tea just flushes the oil out of the rear end?!?!
Back to food, yes. The small plate of jellyfish came next. It’s one of my all time favorite items to eat at Dim Sum. It is springy and jelly-like (ok, that’s somewhat cheating) but rather crunchy. If you close your eyes and nose, and don’t know better, you’d guess some kind of crunchy vegetable, like a radish. But it is more hearty and seafood-y. I’m doing a very poor job explaining. So I’ll just say this: try it once, if you don’t like it, fine. If you know what I am talking about then I’d just say that as far as jellyfish goes, this tastes how it is supposed to, slightly salty, slightly sweet and slightly spiced. Umami. Sorry I devoured this too, and forgot to take pictures. Yes, sue my ass.
The BBQ buns disappeared off the table fast, and comments from the table were all good. The Pork Spare Ribs simmered in black bean sauce is another one close to my heart. But the cut of the meat was very fatty. I had to eat around the bone and fat, and didn’t quite enjoy not getting much of the meat. The sauce is good, but lacking in the traditional black bean flavor I usually associate with this kind of spare ribs. Not the best I’ve had, but it’s worth ordering. My main issue is with the fatness of the meat, which could be just the batch they had that day, or the plate we received.
|spare ribs- half plate gone. Sowry!|
Then these mini empanada-shaped fried thingies came out. They are filled with bbq pork and shrimp and delicious. Not sure what they are called, but they are meant to be dipped in clear broth, which I thought was strange. Skipped the broth, and ate them by themselves. Delish. The crispy spring rolls were generously filled with pork and again with shrimp, and were another hit at the table. The shrimp balls coated with slivered almonds are soft in the inside, crunchy when you bite into it from the almonds. This is something you see in many, but not all, Dim Sum restaurants. So when it’s offered, we tend to order it.
Then they came, the true test of how legit a Dim Sum joint is: Siu Mai and Har Kow. I had the urge to just grab the metal containers and hold on close, so no one else could share them. The Har Kow’s clear skin was a tad too thin and sticky, so as you try to remove one from the rest, it tears easily. They could have done a little more work to perfect the skin. But the 3 shrimps inside more than made up for the skin. *moans* The Siu Mai are the best thing I had there all day. They don’t skimp on shrimp and pork, and each is topped with a good burst of bright orange tamago (fish roe). Very pretty and very very toe-curling. *MOANSSSSS*
|Clockwise from top left: siu mai, fried pork thing, and har kow|
|that thing to the right of the fried pork thing at the top: 1 durian puff, waiting for me|
Oh by now you should realize that if you are allergic to shellfish, Dim Sum can be a limiting experience. But I’d stab myself with an Epi-pen any day, if it means I don’t have to give up my seafood! I know my priorities. (But thank goodness, I am not allergic to anything. Blessed me.)
A nice surprise was the Claypot rice with the ground pork and salted fish. The rice at the bottom is slightly burnt from the claypot. You eat that with the fragrant fluffy rice from the middle, the topping of pork and salty hint from the salted fish, you get a very substantially satisfying dish.
Somewhere in the middle of all these, the yam cake appeared. I usually like them okay, but these, while looking good, don’t taste like they look. The yam seemed undercooked and too starchy. Seasoning was off. We didn’t finish this. This was the throwaway item of the day.
Also, somewhere in the middle of the goodness and the one not-so-good thing, was… drum rolls… DURIAN! No effin way! Ok, all the fellow Asians who love Durian, but can’t share that feeling with many others, I get you. I love Durian with a passion but when I admit that aloud, I get either “wha?” or “Eew weird!” Elite pays homage to it with the Durian Puffs, and I am one to join in the celebration for this King of all fruits, so I jumped in on a couple of those pastries. The filling is unmistakably durian- that liquor-ish taste, that sweetness unique to the fruit- oozing and warm. That smell, fragrant or stinky, depending on who you ask.
You should know I am utterly offended by the common description “stinks like rotten feet”. If you ever smelled one of those rotten feet, then you are hanging around the wrong people. If its from your feet, then you should saw them off. And if you ever talk to me and tell me that durian smells like stinky feet or stinky anything, I’d make you lick my stinky flip flop, I swear.
Ah, Dim Sum, always hitting the right spots.
Elite Restaurant is located at 700 South Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754. (626) 282-9998