Immediately after my Menuism article on the recent explosion in authentic Chinese dining on L.A.'s Westside went online, I found out that another San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurant chain, Capital Seafood, was planning to move into the abandoned New Port Seafood location on La Cienega Blvd., next to Lawry's on Restaurant Row. The episode involving the New Port Seafood's tenure in Beverly Hills was one of the low points in Westside Chinese dining. Back in 2014, the Westside cheered with the announcement that one of the biggest dogs in the San Gabriel Valley would be headed west, giving the Westside a chance to prove that they could indeed support a signature, authentic Chinese restaurant. And indeed, everybody thought the Beverly Hills New Port Seafood would be like shooting fish in a barrel, so much so that I deliberately stayed away from the restaurant for its first few weeks, not wanting to fight the crowds. As things turned out the crowds at New Port Seafood never did get out of hand, and by the time I showed up a month after opening, the restaurant was pretty much dead. A handful of other visits over the years was similarly met by the same circumstances, just a handful of customers, mostly Chinese, testament to the fact that the food there was indeed pretty comparable to that at the wildly successful San Gabriel location. New Port Seafood closed down in 2017 with barely a whimper.
With the spate of significant Chinese restaurant openings in 2018, both with actual openings like Din Tai Fung, Gu Yi, additional branches of Northern Cafe and Tasty Noodle House, and planned openings of 85 Degrees, Hai Di Lao and Sichuan Impression, the added announcement of an opening by Capital Seafood appears to be just another addition to the sudden golden age of Westside Chinese dining. Indeed, the initial word was met with the expectation that the Westside Chinese food gold rush was accelerating even more. However, since then, doubts have arisen on a couple of counts.
First of all is the realization that all of the big Westside Chinese food success stories have been of non-Cantonese food, and the one crash and burn, New Port Seafood, has been Cantonese food. While the pioneering Chinese food openings on the Westside by Qin West and Northern Cafe near the UCLA campus were propelled by a desire to serve the ever growing Mainland Chinese student population at UCLA, the clientele for the new Westside Chinese restaurants certainly is not limited to the student group, and seems to have tapped until a previously underserved population of non-Cantonese diners on the west side of town. Could it be that there is already enough pre-existing Cantonese food on the Westside, such that Capital Seafood may meet the same fate as New Port Seafood.
Then there's Capital Seafood itself. It is well established with branches in the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County. But certainly it is not in the top tier of Los Angeles area dim sum, and indeed their remaining Irvine branch in the Spectrum was much much less than what I expected and does not have particularly impressive ratings. Of course, it is possible they could build off of their higher quality Arcadia location, which purveys dim sum from a menu, not a cart. But at this point, I think we need to be cautious as to our expectations as what this all means for Westside dim sum and Chinese food.