Dim sum is a family affair. When my boyfriend Wesley and I were growing up in Alhambra, we ate brunch on Saturdays with the same fervor that other families went to church on Sundays. Our parents would find the best-priced dim sum advertised in the Chinese newspapers while we would get dressed and call up our relatives to join. The slightest penny difference would dictate where we went: $0.88 per plate, $0.69 per plate.
As adults, the weekend family lunches have become less frequent, and we go out for dim sum more by ourselves. And unlike our parents our hunt isn’t necessarily for the best prices, but for the best food. In Alhambra, there is always an opportunity to experiment with developments in the traditional foods we love. While we always order the staples, we like to look to those restaurants that give an extra kick to our regulars.
One day we decided to check out a fancier and higher priced (too expensive according to our Chinese parents) restaurant. One of these tai gway, or too expensive, places is Lunasia where the cheapest plate is $1.88. We're moderately firm believers that prices equal better quality in foods (or at least it should), so we decided to shell out the extra money and up our expectation meters.
Alhambra is part of the “Chinese food capital of the United States,” according to an article that ran last year in the Journal of Asian American Studies. The city, write researchers Haiming Liu and Lianlian Lin, is home to 57 Chinese restaurants. Amongst these are various restaurants that serve dim sum, Chinese style tapas, in the morning to late afternoon.
Upon walking into Lunasia we immediately noticed a difference from the traditional dim sum atmosphere. No loud cart ladies pushing giant pieces of metal. While most dim sum spots in the Alhambra-area serve dim sum using the traditional carts with the ladies calling out offers of tasty shrimp dumplings and sesame rolls, some fancier restaurants, like Lunasia, now allow customers to order through a checklist.
At Lunasia chatter was kept at a moderately low level. The clean, serene decor, better china, and the addition of an orchid centerpiece (which is taken away when you arrive at the table) made the place feel classy and relaxed. The beautiful sunlight also radiated through the tall windows. We were beginning to like what we were seeing.
After going through the list of dim sum and ordering mostly from the $3.08 section, we eagerly waited for our food.
MACAO ROASTED PORK BELLY ($6.88) is categorized under the Chef Specialty section. The delicately sliced pork had a crispy skin and a small amount of fat that balanced with the meat and skin.
Since I love durian, the DURIAN CAKE ($3.08) was a must try. As you can see by the picture, it isn't exactly a cake but a flaky pastry with a durian filling.
Lunasia's EGG CUSTARDS ($2.08) have a rich egg custard filling and a delightfully toasty crust.
The B.B.Q PORK BUNS ($2.08) had a sticky, sweet top and a generous amount of BBQ pork filling. It meets the BBQ pork bun standard.
The BEEF TRIPE WITH SCALLIONS ($3.08) was pleasantly not too oily. The taste of scallions is deliciously infused into the tripe, which was chewy, but tender enough.
The SOFT SHELL CRAB ($6.88), also a chef specialty, is not your typical dim sum dish, but we like to order the untypical. The fried soft shell crab was spicy and salty, but, like the other dishes, not too oily.
PEA-TIP SCALLOP DUMPLING ($4.08) had a soft skin, chewy toppings, and warm insides. A delectable, different type of dumpling.
What we're beginning to notice about Lunasia that their dishes are not too oily or fatty. This consistency was also seen in the BLACK BEAN SPARERIBS ($3.08), which usually has really fatty pieces of spareribs that are drench in a bed of oil. Lunasia stood out with this popular and simple dish. The pork pieces were lean and the sauce was not mostly oil.
The SHRIMP RICE NOODLE ($3.08) had huge pieces of shrimp that were NOT overcooked. Evelina loves shrimp, but overcooked shrimp, which is typical at most dim sum restaurants, disgusts her. This time she actually consumed the shrimp.
The BEEF RICE NOODLE ($3.08)'s herbs complemented the meat very well. A standard, well made dish.
HONG KONG ROASTED DUCK ($5.88) was our last chef specialty item. The top pieces of the duck were a bit fatty, but the rest seem like quality pieces of the bird, which also had a crispy skin.
The SHRIMP HAR GOW ($3.08) was larger than what is usually served. The shrimp was huge and the outer skin was soft but still able to hold well.
The grand finale of the dim sum meal was the huge PORK SIU-MAI ($3.08) packed with pieces of pork and shrimp with tiny pieces of mushroom and a sprinkle of fish eggs.
Lunasia has become part of our food repertoire; the go-to place whenever we are craving huge siu-mai and har gow. We’ve even converted our parents and family, who may sometime quietly voice price complaints, but overall are satisfied with the quality and taste of their beloved dim sum.