Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Elite Restaurant... Monterey Park, CA - A Step Above Standard Dim Sum?

Living in the SGV, I'm spoiled with such vast selection of Asian food. And the low prices for SGV food are sometimes unbelievable. I've taken many non-Asian friends to eat and I've watched them rub their eyes and do a double take on the menu. What? How do these people live? Same thing I wonder everyday. In SGV, you can get dim sum as low as $1.60 per dish. You can have a family style lunch for four, for under $20. You can get almost any soup noodle for under $5. To me, this is wonderful. And I have money left over to buy things like Asian face visors, pirated vcd/dvd's and rims. You know, the good stuff.

But over the past years, there's been a new wave of higher-end restaurants that make Asian people rub their eyes and do a double take - particularly dim sum/banquet style restaurants. The new wave dim sum-style basically mixes traditional dim sum with Western/Pan-Asian ingredients. It was only a matter of time that Chinese would head towards the fusion trend in LA (aside from HK-style cafes in SGV). There's Mission 261 in San Gabriel, Triumphal Palace in Alhambra, Seafood Harbour in Rosemead and New Concept in Monterey Park. Well New Concept has a new owner and has reincarnated as the Elite Restaurants - same chefs, same staff.

I was called upon by the powers of the Los Angeles Court, to serve as a juror last week in Alhambra. Oh joy you assholes. Sitting in the jury assembly room, I stared at the clock and counted the minutes. If you're a true foodie, you're mind never strays away from food. When you wake up in the morning, you're already thinking about breakfast. After breakfast, you're thinking about lunch. After lunch, you're thinking about a snack. After dinner, you're thinking about the next day's cycle. Insane, I know - but you know it's true. I wanted dim sum but didn't want to try the ones I usually frequent.... mmm, how about Elite? I had heard so much about it from friends and on Chowhound.

I arrived at Elite to find that it WASN'T decked out in red wallpaper with the cliche Golden Dragons of Double Happiness mural. Instead, the walls were dressed with yellow wallpaper and framed images of their culinary gifts to us. This place was packed to the rim when I got there at 12:30. As I waited for my table, I snagged a menu and started pre-ordering. *Note: fancier dim sum places will not have the old ladies wearing jade bracelets pushing carts. The food is brought to you buy a server after filling out your menu form. My eyes lit up in excitement as I filled out my lunch order. I couldn't wait. I flipped the other side of the menu and almost fell over the chair. Elite also serves banquet dinners ranging from $388 to $1,688. The Chinese love the number 88 and 888 (eight is pronounced as 'baht') because it sounds like the phrase... "get rich" (faht choy). Elite might want to consider changing their prices if they want to "get rich". Not many people can shell out $1,688 for a family dinner unless they sell their left kidney.

Elite Restaurant Interior
No red wallpaper, dragons and jade-bracelet equipped cart-pushers. Hope I didn't mistaken this place for Panda's Inn?

Macau Roasted Pork (Oh Moon Seew Yook)
This was awesome! Beautifully roasted pieces of pork back or belly and perfectly fried skin. I love pork belly! This is served with a dish of salt and hoisin sauce. For those that have never heard of Macau, it's an ex-Portuguese colony southwest of Hong Kong. Although the architecture is reminiscent of Portugal's, there are cantonese-speaking people everywhere. Macau is also considered as the Vegas of South Asia. $5.98

Spare Ribs with Chili & Black Bean Sauce (Pai Gwut)

The only difference in this and traditional 'pai gwut' is that the ribs are steamed on top of sweet potatoes, which do nothing for this dish. I've had better 'pai gwut' at traditional dim sum joints. $1.98

Congee with Pork & Preserved Egg (Pei Dan Sao Yook Jook)
A must-have when I eat dim sum. I expected to get a small bowl here but I was wrong. It came in a huge white soup bowl. Like the 'pai gwut', I've had better. Good deal though, for only $5.08.

Scallop Steamed Rice Noodles (Dai Zee Cheung Fun)

Oh man. I've never seen this and when I saw it on the menu I nearly flipped. I love scallops and I love steamed rice noodles. This was excellent. Scallops were perfectly steamed and the noodles were beautiful - not hard at all. The sauce was so so, but still, great overall dish. I would order this dish again. Maybe even two. $2.98

Shark's Fin Dumpling in Supreme Soup Stock
Whenever I have the chance to eat shark, I will eat those bastards. I hate them. I'm amused by the National Geographic and Discovery Channel specials, but those bastards are out of control. Jaws was served in a huge dumpling - almost like a pouch, in a golden broth. I broke the dumpling in half and out came the remnants of Jaws. This was delicious but I felt that the Supreme soup stock was way too sweet. Anyway, I helped out some seals and walruses by eating this dish. $5.98

Pork Shu-Mai (Seew Mai)
I don't know why they call this a pork shu-mai because they all come with large pieces of scallop sitting on top of them. These were definitely the largest shu mai I've ever seen and they were delicious. Because of the satellite dish size bowl of porridge, I couldn't finish this. $2.98

Pan Fried Turnip Cake with X.O. Sauce (XO Jeung Loh Bahk Go)
When I was mini-ED&BM, I used to eat turnip cakes all day long. I call these Chinese hash browns because they are crispy. Elite's version includes X.O. Sauce which consists of minced dried shrimp, dried scallops and chili. The cakes were fried nicely but there wasn't much of an X.O. Sauce-taste. I barely dented this. $5.08

As you can see, I ordered way too much food. My favorites were the scallop steamed rice noodles, Macau pork and shu mai. If you do try Elite, try dishes you wouldn't normally try - they've got a huge list of things I've never eaten. I'm going back again and ordering entirely different dishes. But overall, I prefer traditional dim sum houses like 888, New Capital, Ocean Star and Hop Li (my favorite). I love the anticipation of seeing your favorite dim sum cart approaching you down the aisle. I love seeing what goodies I can eat immediately. Sometimes, traditional is the way to go. I got back to the jury room and freaking knocked out. I was so full I almost puked. Good times. Thanks for reading.

Elite Restaurant
700 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 282-9998


H. C. said...

Nice and can't wait to try! All the dim sum looks gussied-up, kinda reminds me of Mission 261 when it first opened.

Jeni said...

Wow...beautiful pictures D. I love the pork belly! Reminds me of mine. So soft and plump.

susan said...

great pics dylan! i wish dim sum was closer to me. i only go like twice a year. way too little!

Bon Vivant said...

OMG! I love fried turnip cake! That looks so delicious.

Great photos.

OT: thanks for the Cham Sut Gol rec. I went last Sat and liked it but thought it a bit too pricey for we got. But parking wasn't a hassle and the service was great.

Passionate Eater said...

Shoot, I serve on a SGV jury if I could get me those food items. Gorgeous pix D.

elmomonster said...

Dude! You ordered all that by yourself?! Way to stretch that $5 the State of California gives you as well as your stomach.

Seriously, I had no idea about this place. Thanks for the fun review, as always.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Hi HC, like I said, sometimes you don't have to fix anything that isn't broken. Traditional dim sum is still the best - no matter what you put on it. I felt Mission 261 was good but I miss the oldladywithcartandjadebracelet service.

J, my pork belly is fattier though.

Yongsusan, lemme know anytime you wanna go, we can meet up in the SGV ok?

BV, i love chinese hashbrowns too - but this XO version was mediocre. Have you been to Soot Bull Jeep or Gui Rim 2 yet?

PEATER, thank you. Thinking about food always gets me thru the day. I'm already thinking about lunch and dinner right now and it's only 11 am.

Elmo, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I thought they were going to be small dishes. The porridge bowl killed me. As I said to HC, traditional dim sum is still the best. But definitely try this.

One Food Guy said...

That is fantastic! I love dim sum, and I think I'm correct in saying I'm with you, I like traditional dim sum houses with the carts rolling by. Chau Chow City and China Pearl are the best in Boston's Chinatown.

My favorites are also the steamed rice noodles, with shrimp, I've never seen them with scallop! And my favorite favorite is the pan fried turnip cake, although I think at the places in Boston they might use daikon. Either way, I love it, and like watching them cook it on the cart.

And while you had to go back to jury duty and sit around, I used to stuff myself with dim sum and have to go back to the office! Ugh. I'm talking serious food coma at least once a week! Too bad I don't work downtown any more, I miss dim sum!

rogue gourmande said...

Love me some Dim Sum, but like Susan only get to it once or twice a year. I think the last Dim Sum meal I had was at the Golden Dragon in Chinatown. Is that even the name of the place?...

Your pics are great, but the food all looks so pale! Aside from some scallions, the food itself is lacking in visual appeal.

MeowMix said...

That sure is a lot of dim sum for one person ;)

I had jury duty last week - in the lovely downtown LA courthouse. My choices were McD's, Subway and Burger King.

Dim Sum question: do all places serve sharkfin dumplings? I'm dying to try them but have never seen them - most likely because I couldn't understand the cart lady's descriptions.

teenage glutster said...

I was just about to finally post about my experience here last Sunday. Good thing LA Digesty is my homepage.

I really liked this place, especially their baked scallop and turnip cake, steamed lotus leaf filled with sticky rice and their sweet oatmeal buns.

And about your comment about foodies: totally agree with you. If it wasn't for food...i don't know how i'll make it through the days.

Anonymous said...

were you serious about your shark comments? you know they slice off their fins and toss them back into the water to bleed or drown?

I'm not going to say that the Chinese and their demand for the touted magical effects of sharkfin are the sole cause of shark population depletion, but they're not helping.


Tokyoastrogirl said...

This is like upper crusty dim sum (well, it's upper but hopefully not crusty)....and you ate my beloved turnip cake!! Next challenge- we have to whip up as many different dishes with turnip cakes as possible! Turnip cake burgers....turnip cake burritos......turnip cake melts......

kayoko said...

man oh man... drooool. nothing better than a really good dim sum joint (nothing worse than a bad one). those spareribs are beautiful! a real work of art. how do they make them so tender, so juicy, so wonderful???

i'm off to dim sum in chinatown tomorrow myself (a place that i have never been to, but is highly recommended)-- and your post has made me really excited. LA definitely has excellent dim sum.

completely in the limits of my budget too-- can't say no to dim sum festivities!!!

r a m e n i a c said...

shark fin dumpling in supreme soup is one of my all time faves. nothing like biting into that juicy scrote-looking sack in a bowl o' goon tong gow. did i just say that?

Yuzu said...

Okay, I will admit that I didn't even read this post because I've already read too much today and I don't feel like reading anymore. ;P

But I gotta say that these photos are so kick-ass! Great job.

Chubbypanda said...

Tasty pics, but I'm not sure what makes any of those dishes "fusion" or worth the markup. I've seen them all before.

Steamy Kitchen said...

you just made me SO homesick! I need dim sum NOW!!!! When I go home to visit parents, they always take me to Ocean Star. I always order enough to feed 10. I always go home with leftovers enough to feed 9.


Rob said...

Eat,Drink&Be Merry wrote
"hark's Fin Dumpling in Supreme Soup Stock Whenever I have the chance to eat shark, I will eat those bastards. "

Well if you love scallops, then you should love sharks, not eat them. they are endangered, and keep the rays and seals from eating up all the scallops. Sharks have been fished to almost extinction on the northern east coast with the added benefit of causing the total collapse of the scallop industry there. Please don't eat shark!

Anonymous said...

the dim sum aren't "gussied-up" ... this is what dim sum actually look like in Hong Kong (as opposed to Chinatowns in the U.S.).

annie said...

Worst service ever! If you're planning to go with a group bigger than 10, forget it. They don't have enough tables to serve large groups and the wait is terrible. You would think that the "No Reservation" rule applies to everyone, but not to "Frequent" customer. We waited for an hour and a half for a large table, and once a "Frequent" customer walks in who supposedly made reservation with the "Manager", they have priority.

Living in the SGV, you will bump into a lot of restaurants who gives "Frequent" customer priority, but for a restaurant this small, it becomes absolutely ridiculous.

ibwaiwai said...

great review eatdrinknbmerry, I am chinese and happens to love dim sum. Personally I've tried nearly every dim sum location within greater los angeles and orange county. Elite Dim sum restaurant in Monterey park has got to be the finest dim sum for its price. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys dim sum. If you dont want to wait 1 hrs in line, either arrive before 12 noon, or pick up the ticket and come back 40 minutes later :)

Paul said...

Looks good however I (and many others) boycott all restaurants that serve shark fin so I'll never know.

Changing your menu could open a restaurant up to a whole new customer base.

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Anonymous said...

You mentioned that you've been to a lot of the traditional dim sum restaurants with the red wall paper and the older ladies pushing dim sum carts, I was wondering if you could recommend one. I just moved to this area from Seattle and I have a Dim Sum craving.

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