First of all, TC is right: Sea Harbor has the most perfectly, sparklingly fresh taro in their fried taro thingies that I've ever had. It's a little scary, how good the taro is.
Besides that - well, my opinion is a little odd. Sea Harbor has some incredibly *respectable* dim sum. I mean, intellectually, I was impressed. Fried spinach bao with meat/veggie stuffing - fascinating little spinach flavor, good complement for the faintly, vegetal-sweet stuffing.
Everything is very pretty and very inventive. They use flying fish roe like they have stock in the flying fish roe cloning company, or something. Steamed scallop on bean curd with dried scallop - exceedingly neat match of textures, though a little empty of flavor. (And I speak here as a person who really loves the flavor of plain, fresh tofu. This tofu felt fresh, but lacked any flavor. Maybe intentional?) The har gow (rice shell with shrimp) had the best, clearest shrimp flavor I've yet had in dim sum.
Other things, I can't remember. But the overall impression, there, was that my head was a little more moved than my heart. It's funny. I think I have certain expectations for dim sum. It always has a certain salt/ginger impact, a certain intensity of chew, a certain low punch to the soul. I don't know, I guess I always feel like dim sum is some form of soul food. Maybe this is the way my family went to it - a Saturday treat, you didn't eat any breakfast, show up in San Francisco after 40 minutes drive *starving*, wait an hour, outside in the San Francisco gloom, and then finally get a table and *go to*. And this place - they go very Chez Panisse-ish. All the other flavors - salt, ginger, all those other spices that I can't name but hover in the palate - get tuned down, in favor of a pure presentation of the flavor of the fresh seafood. Even the dumpling wrappers are somehow more effete.
And, up to this point, I always thought I was the kind of guy who would take the pure presentation of the flavor of fresh seafood over all else. Me, I like my fish steamed or grilled or fried, and that's all. I like the flavor of *fish*, of *shrimp*. But it doesn't seem right somehow. I mean, I was impressed, but I wasn't *fed*. I wanted some salt and some grease and some CHAW in my wrapper.
Maybe it's because - this kind of tuned-down flavoring, go-for-the-purity cooking takes a lot of care. Every time I've had incredibly great, bare-bones cooking - French, Chinese, Italian - it's in a small restaurant (typically a very expensive restaurant, though not always) - a small kitchen with one chef who gives it all love. Maybe ultra-pure-ingredients-centric cooking just can't be done on the hard, industrial scale of dim sum.
Then again, Sea Harbor is 1/8 the size of Ocean Star.
I go too far. It was very fine dim sum. Any chef should be proud.
Anyway, Sea Harbor is certainly the finest and most delicate and impressive of dim sum restaurants out here. For innovative dim summage, it beats Empress Pavilion down like hell - EP has guts, but its dim sum always tastes a little off and stale in the flavor - even when it's fresh out of the kitchen. Ocean Star is still the soul favorite, even if it's kind of a poor country cousin to Sea Harbor. The best intellect/low guts hit for dumplings I know in this town is Din Tai Fung. None of the dim sum places here have won my heart as much as Fook Yuen in Millbrae outside of San Fran. But I'm probably just a heartless, simple-tongued heathen.
Funny, this turned out a lot more negative than I thought it would. I was very impressed.
Two final notes:
One dish were it clicked in the head and in the guts: scallop/shrimp/shark fin dumpling. Flavor was gorgeous.
I took home some simple oyster-sauced beef/seafood rolls in tofu skin. Next morning, I ate it for breakfast, quietly, with a bit of tea, by my window. And I was genuinely moved. Maybe I just can't appreciate subtle, gentle dim sum surrounded by the noise and bustle.
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