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Saigon Seafood Harbor -- dim sum report

Ruth Lafler | Jul 22, 2004 04:41 PM

Opinions on the dim sum at Saigon Seafood Harbor in (in Richmond next to the Pacific East Mall) have been mixed, so several of us got together Sunday to check it out.

Overall, I'd say it's some of the best dim sum in the east bay. The fillings are really a stand out: fresh, flavorful and good consistency (for example, the chive dumpings were moist but not gooey inside). The shrimp in the har gao were perfect, and the filling in the Teochow (Chiu Chow) dumpling was crunchy and spicy. The sui mai were made with coarsely chopped (not ground, which tends to be rubbery) pork, and were excellent. There was also a seafood dumpling shaped sort of like a canoe, that was unique and delicious. XLB were, as per usual in a Cantonese dim sum house, stuck together and impossible to remove from the steamer without ripping the wrapper and spilling the soup. I have no idea why the concept of leaving space between the dumplings is so difficult for dim sum chefs to grasp, but I've seen it dozens of times.

Sweets were also strong: the mango pudding was of the firm, molded style, and although it didn't have any pieces of mango, it had a good fresh mango flavor; the green tea pudding was also quite flavorful. We skipped the custard tarts and instead went for two other variations on custard filling: the baked "pineapple" custard buns, which were excellent in all respects (bun, filling, and ratio of the two), and steamed tapioca dumplings with the intensely golden custard filling glowing throught the translucent wrapper, an interesting combination of chewy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

What missed the mark were all the fried items. Maybe the regular guy at the deep fry station was on vacation or had a fight with his wife, but both the fried taro puffs and the fried bean curd skin rolls were over-oily, with oil puddling on the plate. Even without the excess oil, I didn't think these were particularly good versions (the taro puff had to high a ratio of taro to filling for my taste, and the bean curd skins were just blah). We sent back two orders of the salt and pepper calamari because they'd gotten so cool and limp Victoria pronounced them inedible. A third plate straight from the kitchen was much better, but still not outstanding to my mind (I liked the crunch of the batter but thought the calamari itself was a bit tough).

In addition to the dim sum, we ordered a dish of on choy stir fried with fermented bean sauce that was fresh, perfectly cooked and delicious. We also had a noodle dish that was quite good. Several of us noted that the Jasmine tea (the house tea, not a special request) was of higher than usual quality.

Over all, it was well above average for the East Bay, and certainly better than the mediocre dim sum we had a few months ago at Pacific East Restaurant inside the mall. I'm not sure I would choose it over Legendary Palace on the strength of the dim sum alone, but the noodle and veggie dishes might put it over the top. I have to admit that it wasn't so much better that I'd choose it over Joy Luck at a less than half the price.

One real negative: as in all the previous incarnations of this space, the din was terrific. When we walked out to the parking lot we all noted how much blessedly quiter it was outside ... there right next to busy I80 (vbg).

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