Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lunasia (Alhambra, CA)

Lunasia Chinese Cuisine
500 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801
Sat 08/31/2014, 01:10p-03:00p

I don't get out to dim sum all that often, so it was nice to finally make it to Lunasia, which I'd been curious about for some time now. The restaurant is housed at the Alhambra Regency Plaza space that was once home to Triumphal Palace, one of the earlier second wave dim sum joints that eschewed traditional carts in favor of menu-based ordering. Triumphal debuted in June 2005 with considerable fanfare, and even secured a glowing three-star review in the LA Times from Irene Virbila.

However, the opening chef left not too long after, and the place entered into a steady decline, finally closing at the end of 2008. One of Triumphal's original co-owners, Betty Lau, bought out her partners and reintroduced the restaurant as Lunasia with the same kitchen, same FOH, and pretty much the same menu. However, she wound up selling the place in March 2009 to Shyi Kai Chang, whom I believe to be the current owner.

Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Steamed Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Steamed, Baked & Deepfried Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Baked & Deepfried, Rice Noodles Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Chef Specialty Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Chef Specialty, Noodle & Rice Lunasia Dim Sum Menu: Noodle & Rice
As far as Lunasia's menu goes, expect the usual suspects, joined by a variety of non-dim sum items as well. Note that there are no carts here (à la Triumphal), and that dim sum is served all day, a rarity (I wish more restaurants would do the same). There are also banquet options if you're hosting a special event. Click for larger versions.

Victory Brewing Company Golden Monkey
The boozing situation at Chinese restaurants tends to suck of course, so I brought along my own to enjoy. We began with the Victory Brewing Golden Monkey, a tripel-style ale that worked pretty well with the food thanks to its subtly spicy, herby flavors over a backbone of malty, Belgian-y ester character.

B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21)
B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21)
B.B.Q Pork Buns (#21) [$2.88]
Kicking things off were baked cha siu bao, workable renditions of the dim sum staple, with tender, sweet 'n' savory shards of pork working nicely with the light, yet substantial buns.

Spareribs/Black Bean Sauce (#4)
Spareribs/Black Bean Sauce (#4) [$3.88]
Paigu were serviceable, tender and porky, though I would've liked a stronger black bean presence here.

Steamed Chicken Feet (#3)
Steamed Chicken Feet (#3) [$3.88]
I've never been a huge fan of feng zhua, and thus abstained from our single order here and let some of my dining companions have their fill on this one. They seemed to enjoy it.

Steamed Turnip Cake (#18)
Steamed Turnip Cake (#18) [$3.88]
The steamed variant of luobo gao was gelatinous in consistency, with a mild relish to it that was amped up by the various sprinklings up top. Pretty good, though I'd still go for the pan-fried version.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Far West Vlaming
Next up was a sour, the oak-aged Logsdon Far West Vlaming. Done up in the Flanders Red style, this one was quite to my liking, tart of course, but with a tasty woody, malty, cherried quality intermingled with a distinct vinous slant.

Sticky Rice Wrap (#13)
Sticky Rice Wrap (#13)
Sticky Rice Wrap (#13) [$4.88]
Lo mai gai was one of the surprise standouts for me, with the glutinous rice here really working well alongside the wrap's savory stuffings.

Egg Yolk Buns (#11)
Egg Yolk Buns (#11) [$3.88]
Egg yolk buns looked innocuous from the outside, but held a lush, runny, slightly gritty filling of sweet, runny yolk. I wasn't a huge fan of these, as they veered overly sugary.

Pan Fried String Beans (#49)
Pan Fried String Beans (#49) [$5.98]
Can't go wrong with green beans, crisp, crunchy, waxy pods that paired swimmingly with the deep, umami-rich flavors in the dish.

Jumbo Shrimp Har Gow (#1)
Jumbo Shrimp Har Gow (#1) [$4.88]
Xia jiao were indeed a bit larger than usual, with well-cooked, still briny shrimp that I quite enjoyed. In terms of the wrapper, it could've been sturdier, as I experienced some breakage.

2013 Southern Tier Brewing Company Grand Arbor
The 2013 Southern Tier Grand Arbor is a saison brewed with maple syrup. You got that typical farmhouse character here--citrusy, spicy, earthy, dry, light hops--but with a delightful undercurrent of sugariness from the incorporation of that maple.

B.B.Q Pork (#60)
B.B.Q Pork (#60) [$5.98]
Char siu pork showed off the classically sweet-savory flavors that you'd expect, making for a satisfying sort of eating experience, though I really wanted the meat more tender, juicier.

Shang Hai Pork Dumplings (#7)
Shang Hai Pork Dumplings (#7) [$4.88]
Xiaolongbao were passable, though not noteworthy. They were pretty good taste wise, though the wrappers needed to be more delicate, and the fillings soupier. I'm probably pickier now with my XLB given my recent experience at the original Din Tai Fung in Taipei.

Rice Noodle w/Spare Rib (#17)
Rice Noodle w/Spare Rib (#17) [$4.88]
This was nearly identical flavor-wise to the spare ribs above, but with the addition of rice noodles as a base to the dish.

Jumbo Pork Siu Mai (#2)
Jumbo Pork Siu Mai (#2) [$4.88]
We had to try the shaomai, natch, and the ones here were quite tasty, with the pork-shrimp combo really delivering. Their larger size did make eating slightly more awkward, however.

2013 The Bruery Preservation Series: Shegöat
Our last beer was the 2013 The Bruery Preservation Series: Shegöat, a German-style weizenbock. I wasn't a huge fan of the aroma on this one (it was somehow offputting), but taste-wise, it hit the mark, an expectedly hefty, malty brew displaying notes of banana, spice, and brown sugar.

Egg Roll Rice Noodle (#39)
Egg Roll Rice Noodle (#39) [$4.88]
Our first of three rice noodle rolls was the zhaliang version, filled with what amounted to youtiao. It was pretty interesting texturally, with the gummy, slippery wrapper working well with its crisp, slightly sweet stuffing.

Shrimp Rice Noodle (#37)
Shrimp Rice Noodle (#37) [$4.88]
The har cheong variant was your classic preparation, with the snappy shrimp eating well alongside the savoriness of the soy sauce.

B.B.Q Pork Rice Noodle (#40)
B.B.Q Pork Rice Noodle (#40) [$3.88]
Last up was the char siu cheong, stuffed with sweet slices of BBQ pork. I was sort of on the fence with this one, as I thought the actual barbeque character of the meat could've been more apparent.

Spinach Shrimp Dumplings (#19)
Spinach Shrimp Dumplings (#19) [$4.88]
Our last course before "dessert" managed to be one of my favorites, with the shrimp and scallop stuffing here doing a commendable job in conveying the ocean-y essence of the ingredients, all while spinach offered up a bit of a counterpoint.

Twin Sesame Balls (#27)
Twin Sesame Balls (#27) [$2.88]
Time for some sweet stuff. The jian dui were delish: crispy and chewy, nutty and sweet all at the same time.

Macao Egg Custard (#31)
Macao Egg Custard (#31) [$3.88]
Of course, we had to close with daan taat, and Lunasia's were a strong example of the staple, with flaky crusts and smooth, creamy custard fillings imbued with just the right amount of sweetness. Easily some of the strongest I've had.

Overall, Lunasia was a solid dim sum experience for us, above average, though not at the level of the top places (my personal best: Koi Palace). A lot of people appreciate the value proposition here, and indeed, it was a pretty damn good value, coming in at $16.04 a head pre-tip. Next up on the list: seeing what all the fuss is about with Shi Hai...


Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

This year, I've been trying to go to all the top recommended SGV dimsum houses multiple times each to get a sense of which is best. My Lunasia review is here, and like you I found it good, but not as good as it could be. It might be the relative heaviness of the wrappers at Lunasia, and a certain lack of "on pointness". Elite and King Hua are clearly better. I'm on the fence a bit about Sea Harbor. I have to try the new Shi'Mai. My multitudinous Chinese dining is all here.

Friday, October 10, 2014 7:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

Did the restaurant give you a hard time about the beer?

Friday, October 10, 2014 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

you sign up for the ambassadors of sour at Rare Barrel this month?

Friday, October 10, 2014 2:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Andy: You're much more well versed in dim sum than I it seems. So Elite and King Hua are tops for you then I assume. I've still not been to either of 'em, believe it or not (nor Sea Harbour).

Darin: I had no issue at all, but the person who organized the meal had a reservation and talked with management ahead of time I believe, so that probably helped. Interestingly, I actually called the restaurant beforehand, and they were mentioning something like $10/bottle corkage, so it doesn't sound like they're terribly consistent.

Charlie: No, did you? I haven't tried their beer before, so I'm not sure I'm sold on it.

Friday, October 10, 2014 6:52:00 PM  
Anonymous The Offalo said...

Suprised you haven't been to either Elite or Sea Harbour, generally considered the top two dim sum, though I like King Hua better than Elite, and my last visit to Sea Harbour was too long ago to rank it but I think it would also come ahead of Elite for me personally.

(Andy, you eat more Chinese food in SGV than any Westsider I know, and you're not even Chinese! Heh.)

The lack of black beans on the rib dishes was rather sad.

Speaking of corkage, do places usually charge for beer and if so, is it reduced compared to the corkage for wine?

Friday, October 10, 2014 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I just tried out Shi Hai on Sunday, and found it better than Lunasia. That post is coming up.

As for corkage, it's a mixed bag. I find most Asian-y type places tend not to care as much. I have had instances where beer corkage is cheaper than wine corkage though.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 12:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

A lot of the Chinese places I go in the SGV don't charge any, or a nominal $5-10. Some, however, particularly those with no license, get freaked out and don't want you opening anything. In all cases, bringing one's own cork screws and stems is pretty necessary. Only a few like Newport Seafood have wine glasses.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 4:15:00 PM  

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