In the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, you can't drive more than a mile in any direction without passing another Cantonese restaurant with dim sum. The competition is so stiff that I've never encountered an awful dish in all my years of Sunday morning dim sum. To be the best in the SGV, a restaurant must be innovative in its interpretation of the hackneyed classics, as well as consistent in its execution. Sea Harbour in the city of Rosemead meets both criteria with flying colors.
A longtime favorite of dim sum connoisseurs, Sea Harbour is located in an isolated stretch of Rosemead Boulevard across from a vacant lot. Neither the higher prices nor the inconvenient location deter the droves of customers who wait an hour or more, on average, to be seated. Instead of ordering from carts, diners choose from a menu of interesting dishes that are brought to the table.
The dim sum staples are all well executed here, such as a simple plate of rice noodles steamed with nuggets of fatty pork and fermented black beans. Impeccably fresh and supple, the noodles are neither mushy nor bland—just a fine, silky texture that marries well with the richness of the pork.
Another classic dish done well at Sea Harbour uses tofu skin, rolled around various ground meat fillings. Also known as dried bean curd skin or yuba, tofu skin is a byproduct of making soy milk. Harvested as the film that develops on top of the soy milk, the sheets are laid out to dry and rehydrated before use. Thin and chewy, the tofu skin soaks up the flavor of the stocks. (Like all good restaurants, Sea Harbor takes care in making its stocks. Whether it's a seafood broth served with tofu skin or a basic meat broth served with tripe, the liquids are ambrosial.)
A dim sum meal wouldn't be complete without dumplings. While the rice dumplings are made carefully with limber skins and juicy fillings, Sea Harbor also uses wonton wrappers in their dumplings. Steamed in abalone broth and topped with dried scallops, the wonton wrappers contain shrimp steamed until they're just cooked through.
Puddings at most Cantonese restaurants are throw-away items meant to entice children and appease dissatisfied customers, yet the tofu and almond puddings at Sea Harbor are light and refreshing. Not too sweet and not too creamy, the almond pudding contains a layer of tapioca - a welcome contrast to the uniformity of the almond layer.
Even if everything else on the menu failed, I'd still return to the restaurant for one thing only: duck egg yolks. The chefs work wonders with the yolks of salted duck eggs, folding them into steamed buns or fried shells of glutinous flour. The salted duck egg filling is pureed and sweetened, like molten lava as it gushes forth from the first bite. The ducky, salty, and sweet flavors are a winning combination—far more intriguing than the barbecue pork buns that are so prevalent in most dim sum establishments.
3939 Rosemead Boulevard, Rosemead CA 91770 (map)