So I've been seriously searching for Chinese restaurants to eat at for 40 years now, simultaneously with my starting to travel the United States, and also developing an interest in the newfangled authentic Chinese food that began to appear in the United States. At a fairly steady pace for 40 years, I've managed to hit the 7,000 restaurant mark. In logging in my restaurant visits, I consider each round hundred milestone to be special, and what makes a Chinese restaurant more special than not being easily able to go to a return visit? As a result, each "hundred" restaurant has been located some distance away from my Los Angeles home.
Of course keeping this convention requires quite a bit of advance planning. It's not that my restaurant count hits, say, 6,499, and I can hop on a plane and fly someplace for number 6,500 (which for those keeping score was the oddly named Fei Tenc in Manhattan Chinatown). No, instead I look at my upcoming planned trips and then change the pace of my new restaurant visits accordingly, either rapidly accelerating or decelerating my current additions as needed. And in some cases, accelerating my pre-travel restaurant visits may not be good enough as I've also needed a large count at my destination to hit the magic hundred. Fortunately, multi-day trips to dining centers such as San Francisco and New York can provide two dozen new restaurants for a trip, where eating as many as four meals a day, each at a different restaurant, can increase the count.
Now hitting 7,000 proved tricky because that magic mark was on track to be reached this summer, but we did not schedule a summer vacation this year for various reasons. Every one of the first six "thousand" milestones was at an east coast restaurant. 1,000 was at Bo Bo China in Niagara Falls NY, 2,000 was at Eat First in Washington DC, 3,000 was at House Fortune in Gaithersburg MD, 4,000 was at Sun Dou Dumpling House in Manhattan, 5,000 was at Miu Kee in Falls Church VA and 6,000 was at Zheng's Family in Manhattan. However with no east coast trips planned until 2017, I had to settle for the Monterey, CA area, where we were going to attend a wedding. The problem with Monterey, however, is that I had already eaten at all of the Chinese restaurants in Monterey. Not that I'm a frequent visitor there, but Monterey is one of those cities where the turnover of Chinese restaurants is negligible. The same restaurants that were there 20 years ago are there today. So I needed to focus my attention on Salinas, which was somewhat conveniently located on our drive home back from Monterey.
I consulted my master national list of Chinese restaurants that I would like to eat at if I ever visited a particular city. There are hundreds of restaurants on this list, most of which I'll never get to since the chances that I'll return to, say, Little Rock, AR are remote. The list did have a couple of entries for Salinas but they may have been outdated. In checking the Yelp reviews for these restaurants, I stumbled across a stunning suggested Chinese restaurant in Salinas, Dim Sum Inn. Dim sum in Salinas? While Salinas may have had a Chinese community that included a physical Chinatown in the early to mid 20th century, certainly not enough of it remained today to justify anything remotely authentic. Yet, late last year, Dim Sum Inn opened up in north Salinas.
I must admit that after the initial excitement of learning about dim sum in Salinas, the excitement wore off as I figured they were reheating dim sum peddled by Sysco or one of the other food supply companies. However, when I got there on Sunday morning after the wedding festivities in Carmel Valley had ended, I discovered that this was indeed a real find. For one thing, this wasn't Sysco stuff, but in-house made dim sum. How did I know? Well, for one, they had several dim sum varieties that I had seldom, if ever seen. Chicken shen jen bao, which I only encountered at Imperial Seafood in Concord and Old Sichuan in Manhattan Chinatown. Chicken cheung fun, which I've only remember eating at Century Plaza on the edge of Oakland Chinatown. Chicken siu mai, also a rarely seen item and last seen at King Valley Seafood in Pinole, CA. Chicken taro dumpling and onion bun, which I have never seen anywhere. And these oversized, oddly colored baked bbq pork buns, unlike anything I've ever seen before. Also it took a good 20 minutes for these items to come out of the kitchen. Not to say this was the best dim sum I've eaten, but given that I wouldn't expect to find any of this stuff within a 75 mile radius this was a real treat. The one downside is that everything is $5.50 an order, which is more expensive than the fanciest dim sum in Los Angeles.
Of course, the question is why is there dim sum in Salinas. I asked the guy behind the counter if there were many Chinese residents in Salinas and he said there weren't. He did indicate there were Chinese scattered around the Monterey area so I presume that's their core audience for the dim sum menu. When I was in the restaurant, clientele was primarily non-Asian, ordering off the Americanized Chinese menu (the dim sum menu is separate), with just a few Chinese diners. But whatever the reason, thank you Dim Sum Inn for being there.