Adventures in Eating & Cooking
Back in the city again for Mother’s Day!!! So my family went to Ocean Jewel, now known as Asian Jewel (odd name change since Ocean Jewel makes more sense… but hooray for the Asian pride!) Lucky for us it had rained earlier and we got there an hour early before the lunch rush because there was just one empty table.
We started off with the regulars: feng zhua (chicken feet), har gaw (shrimp dumplings), baby pork ribs, pork shumai, and beancurd skin wraps (not exactly sure what the proper name of this is).
As usual the chicken feet and baby pork ribs were the best in terms of flavor. The shumai and shrimp dumplings were average, but the beancurd skin wraps (usually one of my favs) were disappointing.
Another favorite of mine is the xia chang (shrimp wrapped in rice rolls) sprinkled in a type of sweetened soy sauce. One can never go wrong with these, unless there is too little shrimp or sauce. I usually prefer them drenched in the sweet sauce, because it’s so good!! And my mom likes to dip her shumai in it too.
Jiu Cai Bao, or chive dumplings were also great since the chives were fresh and crispy and the shrimp tender and flavorful. The glutinous skin encapsulating the filling was just the right amount of thickness, chewiness, and crispiness.
I also got to try two new items on the dim sum menu: steamed bean shoots and shrimp dumpling, which had a nice veggie taste, and vegetarian roll in rice roll, which was stuffed with delicious shiitake mushrooms! The latter was particularly good with a soft slippery rice skin drenched in the same kind of sauce used in xia chang. I also really enjoy the fresh shiitake scent mixed with slices of crunchy carrots and tofu-like stuffings.
Probably the best dim sum dish Asian Jewel has is its crispy taro cakes. Coated with a layer of crisp fried to perfection, and filled with one of the richest freshest taro I’ve ever had, these taro cakes are amazing! There is a good proportion of meat that does not interfere with the brilliance of the taro.
Last came the dessert! I tried two dishes (not just because I’m a glutton but because I really wanted to try the fried mantou dipped in evaporated milk that other bloggers keep talking about!) We ended up getting both the fried green mochi and the fried mantou. Both were pretty bad honestly… The fried green mochi was too cheap with its black sesame filling, so it ended up tasting like a thick wad of rice gum that was hard to chew. And then the fried mantou dipped in evaporated milk was basically an inside-out donut, except lighter.
Overall, the food was pretty decent, although I feel like the taste somewhat deteriorated since my last visit on New Year’s. Or perhaps my standards for dim sum have just increased since tasting the dim sum in San Francisco, which I will discuss in an overdue post below:
Whereas across the globe, the east definitely beats the west in terms of Chinese food, the opposite is supposedly the case in the US. From everywhere I’ve heard that although NYC has some pretty darn good dim sum, nothing beats straight-up SF dim sum from the original Chinatown.
And man was there a hella lot of dim sum there. Most prevalent were little hole-in-the-wall dim sum shops where you order for take out. It was sort of strange because most of the dim sum places I’ve been to before involved sitting down in a restaurant and picking dishes from thick-accented Cantonese ladies pushing food carts.
So after making a list of the dishes we wanted, we ordered at the counter and the lady piled our food onto paper plates for us. The presentation was rather cheap, and I saw her heating stuff up in the microwave. (I guess it’s because we got there at around 1 PM.) But some of the food turned out to be pretty darn good.
I tried the spinach dumpling first. It was good, but not very memorable. It was a good dumpling but definitely not up to par with the godly dumplings at No. 1 East Restaurant.
The shark fin dumpling was great. I don’t think I’ve ever tried one before and it had a savory juicy meaty taste, but not pork-meaty or burger-meaty but fish-meaty. It was a bit reminiscent of fishballs.
The pork shumai was superb! I’ve never had such great shumai on the east. Usually the dim sum shumai I’ve gotten have slightly fatty meat and is on the blander side, but this shumai had very savory meat. It was slightly more oily, but the meat was lean and chewy.
The chicken sticky rice was so-so. I didn’t like the filling inside as because the meat bits were tough, but the sticky rice itself was one of the best I’ve ever had. It had the same chewy consistency as mochi (as sticky rice should), but didn’t lose the soft fluffiness of traditional steamed rice (which most sticky rice doesn’t have). Usually the gluten in sticky rice makes it feel thick in the mouth and heavy on the stomach. However, this sticky rice was a lot more digestion-friendly.
I was disappointed by the xia chang, mostly because they didn’t come with the yummy sweet sauce it’s usually paired with. I felt jaded by the small size of the shrimps and the overbearing thickness of the rice wrap. But most of all I felt jaded in flavor as the xia chang tasted quite bland, and I ended up dipping it in soy sauce.
The potstickers were…different. Whereas I’m used to seeing thin long meat-stuffed potstickers lathered in oil, these Californian potstickers were huge and generously stuffed with meat and cabbage. They were still lathered in oil though, which is something about potstickers that never changes. I don’t think I really prefer either species of potstickers, but I appreciate each style of making it. Go potstickers!!
In conclusion, I can’t say which coast has the better dim sum, but I can say both coasts sure know how to make it right! I think I would have to pay Cali’s Chinatown another visit someday for some major dim sum scavenging. As for now, I’ll just stick with plowing through Chinatown first!