Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lunasia - 02/21/2013

500 West Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 308-3222

Having finally tried Lunasia's Dim Sum late last year, I left pleased by the food but turned off by the wait. When my uncle decided to have his birthday dinner I was eager if Lunasia's banquet service would match the quality of their lunch.

House Special Combination Platter
On the whole the meats were overly dry and tough with the chicken being nigh inedible. The thinly sliced roast pork was the best of the lot thanks to its fat and sliver of crispy skin though by far the best thing on the plate was the seaweed with its dense crunch and easy sweet salinity.

Crispy Taro Scallops
This dish started with such promise but beneath the airy exterior lurked a mix of thick starchy taro paste and a thin rubbery scallop. A bowl of thick mushroom gravy accompanied the scallops but even with that the dish remained bland.

Stir Fried Prawns w/Veggies
Despite being small for prawns the shellfish was sweet and crisp; pairing nicely with the lightly fried vegetables. This dish while utterly pedestrian was one of the better courses of the night since it actually had some semblance of flavor.

Braised Supreme Swallow-Next w/Sliced Chicken
With the state ban on shark's fin soup having taken effect at the start of the year Chinese restaurants have been replacing the delicacy with swallow's nest another highly prized ingredient. The soup base remains largely unchanged with the same umami savor though perhaps a touch less briny than I remember. The chicken was an absolutely horrendous addition to the dish, gnarled bits of dry meat that overwhelmed the delicate texture of the nest while adding nothing of value in return.

Braised Age-Dry Abalone
The abalone was tender enough but stunningly bland despite being covered with a dark gravy. I found myself heaping plenty of XO sauce to get some essence of shellfish. Sadly XO sauce was arguably the meal's highlight; made from finely chopped dried scallops and chili oil the sauce had plenty of heat and savoriness.

Pan-Fried Lobster w/Supreme Soup Stock
Classically prepared Chinese lobster, though a bit tough for my liking, the meat tasted of ginger and onion along with a sense of sweet shellfish. The bed of noodles beneath were a bit overcooked limp and mealy with little flavor to speak of.

Peking Duck
The duck came still warm and surrounded by plenty of steamed bao buns along with hoisin and scallions. Personally preferred the duck on its own where it was easy to appreciate the skin's crackling crunch and the meat's heady unctuousness.

Steamed Fresh Live Fish
Steamed fish is commonly the penultimate course in traditional Chinese banquets. Since the fish was plated prior to being brought to the table I wasn't able to determine the exact type of fish we were served but the meat had a loose mealy quality to it that suggested it was none too fresh.

House Special Fried Rice
The final course of the night was an unconventional fried rice laden with shrimp, scallops, and dark gravy. The sauce gave the rice a disconcerting wetness and despite the abundance of seafood and gravy the rice still tasted inexplicably plain.

House Pastries
Rather than the tired red bean soup or tapioca, the meal ended with Almond Milk Souffle and Sou Tao. The "Souffle' isn't really a souffle in the traditional sense but a puff pastry on top of a bowl of warm almond milk. Sou Tou or Longevity peach is the name used for a steamed bun filled with mung bean that is supposed to represent long life.

I've noticed that dinner service at top dim sum restaurants is lackluster at best. To their credit Lunasia gets some things right, but the consistent lack of flavor cast a pall over the entire meal.

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