Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top Island Seafood Restaurant - 04/02/2009

I originally planned to take my dad to try Providence's Chef's Menu for his birthday, but he decided it would be more fun to celebrate with family. He decided on Top Island, one of the many Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. The restaurant was located in a non-descript strip mall across from a Big 5 Sporting Goods Store. The interior was no more memorable carpet floor white walls with some wood trim and plenty of chandeliers

Crab Meat with Fish Maw Soup
While the presentation left something to be desired, I suppose I should be happy it was served in a clean bowl (after I asked for a new one), the soup actually tasted pretty good with the crab meat and fish added contrasting elements of sweetness and brine to the savory base.

Thai Style Goose Web - with Papaya
This looked like deboned duck feet and was supposedly one the restaurant's specialties. The goose web almost had a plastic feel and a hard crunch, very disconcerting especially with unexpected bits of bone. I don't really know what was so "Thai" about this dish, the seasoning tasted tangy and spicy, but hardly attributable to a particular style of cuisine.

House Special Variety Dried Seafood Hot Pot
Filled with sea cucumber, abalone, large shitake mushrooms and Chinese greens, I was expecting a lot from this dish. For the most part it was pretty uninspired, though safe. The abalone however tasted mildly rancid and felt more like a firm cheese than the typically snappy shellfish.

Chow Mein
I wish we had this pan fried so the noodles would be a bit crispier on the edges. Instead it felt as if it had sat out for a bit. I would have liked a bit more crunch from the noodles. Instead they felt a bit larger and mushier than normal as if they had soaked in some of the sauce. I've been eating this dish at restaurants since I was a kid and it fills a need for greasy MSG-laden Chinese food I am ashamed to admit to.

Yang Chow Fried Rice
A fairly typical fried rice, very light in flavor, it was definitely meant to be eaten as a side in conjunction with the other dishes.

Alaskan King Crab - with Ginger and Scallion
This is the first time I have had live king crab at a Chinese restaurant and God willing it will be my last. The texture was far too soft and I suspect a bit undercooked. Yet even that flaw paled into insignificance next to the fact that the flavor was completely masked by ginger and scallion. Normally I love scallion but not when it is overpowering the sweetness of the crab.

Steamed Farm Chicken
The chicken was the standout course of the night. I suspect Chinese restaurants use a different breed of chicken as the meat was far leaner and firmer. The breast had a delicate texture without the typical dryness while the dark meat was more tender without the fattiness. After a heavy meal full of sodium and MSG, this was a very welcome change of pace. The chicken itself had a slightly grassy flavor and unlike the crab, went very nicely with the ginger/scallion sauce.

Mung Bean Soup - with Tapioca
Just as the typical Chinese dinner has to begin with savory soup it has to end with some form of sweet soup. This time it was a mung bean soup with tapioca. The soup itself was fairly liquid and despite tasting strongly of mung beans fairly free of the grit that typically accompanies this type of dessert.

Fruit Tart
This was a complimentary dessert from the adjacent bakery. The tart had a rich buttery flavor but was a bit too dry though the use of the custard countered that pretty well. Pretty simple visually, it still looked better that most food coming out of the kitchen.

Well the meal had a few high end ingredients but the kitchen didn't really make the most out of that potential. Many of the courses were flawed in some way, some critically. Maybe I am being too harsh, judging Chinese food by the standards of fine dining, but after suffering through that crab I couldn't just let it slide. Maybe we would have been happier if we ordered more humble fare that the kitchen could execute properly.

On the bright side, the tab for 7 people cost less than 1 person at Providence.


EatTravelEat said...

I don't think you are being too harsh for Chinese food :). This place does seem to have a bit of flaws, but some of the dishes are good. It's interesting that they would have king crab with the ginger and scallion- usually it's lobster or just crab, not king crab!

Tangbro1 said...

The food was okay but in the SGV it should be pretty easy to find good Chinese food. It was especially painful that the flaws were in the hot pot and king crab, the two most expensive dishes.

The king crab with ginger and scallion was a first for me. The restaurant was supposedly giving out 2 dungeness crabs for parties of 6 or larger. They were "conveniently" sold out when we asked, mind you this was at 6:30. Instead they offered us a discount on the king crab and my dad chose the preparation he was most familiar with.

Pepsi Monster said...

Dude, you are not harsh at all. In fact, this restaurant is my choice for the WORST dim sum restaurant I have ever attended. I didn't even want to go for their dinner as my dim sum lunch was the worst experience I have ever had.

They were so ghetto that they brought out the red party cups for water. I was going to do a "F" grade review before I decided that C minus would be my lowest grade. This place really blew hard for me.

Oh, another reason I didn't want to a review for Top Island?... my friend's family friend owned this place. That was probably the only reason I spared them from my wrath.

Yes, the place is critically flawed in many ways. Food. Service. whatever, you can named it all. *sigh* --- end of rant.

Tangbro1 said...

Hey Pepsi,

Your comments remind me of how I felt after Asanebo.

I had really high expectations since my dad picked the place. My first experience a few years back wasn't particularly bad.

The bad service I can vouch for. Our server pretty much neglected us throughout the entire meal and I overheard complaints when they got the drink order wrong at a nearby table.