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Restaurants & Bars 2

Saigon Seafood Harbor, Mehak (visitor's report)

Prabhakar Ragde | Aug 23, 200401:01 AM

These restaurants fall into categories in which our old favourites have failed us without suitable replacements at hand. Our sense is that Yank Sing and Ton Kiang are both coasting on a guaranteed dim sum audience, and offering dumplings using expensive ingredients without doing anything much with them. Reports on Saigon Seafood Harbor have been mixed on this board, but it's quite convenient compared to the others, so we gave it a try. My verdict is that it's not up to Vancouver standards, but better than anything we're likely to make the trip to from the Berkeley hills.

We got the dim sum menu, but didn't end up using it; we just ordered off the carts. The cart women couldn't speak English for the most part, but they weren't impatient with us; they showed us everything, and did their best to communicate. The xiao long bao showed up while I was fetching half our party from the Pacific East Mall parking lot, and I have to rely on my wife, who said they were good and didn't stick together in the steamer. Taro cake came coarsely-shredded, a nice textural change; woo gok had the right balance between filling and matrix, and was properly crisp on the outside; and the fried rice noodles were amazing, crisp on the outside and with just the right amount of flavouring. (I have endured more soggy, disappointing fried rice noodles in the course of my wife's search for a dish she had in China twenty years ago than I care to dwell on.) Seafood dumplings did not scream MSG and were properly salted. But what most impressed me was near the end of the meal, when I knocked one chopstick off the table, bent down to pick it up, and laid it on the table. I was pretty much done, so I didn't try to signal anyone, but within seconds, someone had swooped in, taken both my chopsticks, replaced them with a fresh pair, and disappeared again. At a high-end restaurant, this would be good service; at a dim sum place, it is stunning. There were no delays in getting water, getting tea refilled (without our asking), getting the bill; we were thanked on our way out. This place wants your business, and the food merits a visit. (We'll be back just for those rice noodles.)

Breads of India and Ajanta have gone downhill, or at least aren't as pleasing as they once were, and though you can't spit without hitting an Indian restaurant these days, only Vik's seems to deliver consistently excellent fare, and it closes at six. We tried Mehak, across from Breads of India on Sacramento in Berkeley, for dinner tonight. The good news is that it isn't worse than our last meal at Breads of India, and it's better value for money; the portions are somewhat larger, and the server actually stopped me two dishes from the end of my order, saying that I'd gotten enough (he was right). The bad news is that it's nothing special: decent enough renditions of the usual North American Indian restaurant standards, but neither good enough nor inventive enough (or inventive at all, really) to justify a return visit. So, as with Thai food, the search continues. --PR

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