Saturday, July 20, 2019

How Grand is Grand Harbor?

The return of Michelin to Los Angeles has created additional excitement on the local restaurant scene, and for me personally seeing how they have evaluated Chinese restaurants has been something that has attracted my attention.  It was surprising, though satisfying, to see Bistro Na's garner a Michelin star, but practically speaking the greatest interest has been in seeing what Chinese restaurants did and did not get the Bib Gourmand honorable mentions.   The one restaurant that piqued my interest was Grand Harbor, the one Cantonese restaurant on the list which we do not patronize, and which made the cut over places such as King Hua, China Red, Seafood Palace, Happy Harbor and Elite.  Consequently, a return visit to Grand Harbor for dim sum was warranted as I wanted to see whether it had improved noticeably over our visits there from back in 2015.

Walking into the main dining room I was reminded of how well appointed it was, perhaps the nicest decor of any Cantonese restaurant in the area including Longo Seafood.

First item was the appetizer plate with my childhood favorite sil ji.  Crispy skin was excellent but the roast pork meat was much too dry.



The first thing I look for is interesting nontraditional dim sum items on the menu.  The crispy fried fish cake was a highlight of the meal.


The pan fried XO buns sounded interesting but they were ordinary and misleading to boot.  For one thing they weren't pan fried, as demonstrated by the steamed bao paper on the bottom of the bun.  Also the pork filling had very little indication of XO sauce in the taste.


While not unique, the spare rib rice noodle rolls evoked thoughts of the similarly named wonderful dish at Longo Seafood.  While not bad, these didn't come close to Longo's, and furthermore came with rice noodle logs instead of cheung fun as at Longo.


Actually I love rice noodle logs, but with spare ribs it was the wrong combination.  Furthermore, we had already ordered a separate rice noodle log dish, which was excellent, but which deprived us of the chance to try both rice noodle items.


A variant of an often seen dim sum item was the double egg tofu connected by a layer of fish paste in the middle.  This was pretty good.


Grand Harbor serves what I refer to as the "ironic" version of the pineapple bun.  What most people don't realize (though the awareness level is rising) is that the traditional Chinese pineapple bun (literally translated from Chinese as "bolo bao") has no pineapple content.  Rather, the name refers to the physical appearance which is reminiscent of the exterior of a pineapple.  However, a small number of pineapple bun makers have recently added pineapple cream filling to the bun, either as to not disappoint unknowing diners, or as an ironic joke.  Grand Harbor's ironic pineapple bun is perhaps the most visually attractive version, but pales in taste to that at Happy Harbor in Rowland Heights.

The last item at our dim sum lunch wouldn't seem to qualify as dim sum either as to content or as to serving size.  But the beef brisket was probably the highlight of the day with a spot on anise flavor and wonderfully tender beef.


All in all, the food at Grand Harbor was good, but disappointing.  As I wrote a couple of years ago for L A Weekly, Yelp ratings for Chinese restaurants are largely unreliable for a number of reasons.  Indeed, I just now happened to check Grand Harbor's Yelp rating, which is stunningly low at 2½ stars, as the food at Grand Harbor is pretty good.  On the other hand, when you look at all of the better, excellent Cantonese restaurants that did not receive a Michelin Bib Gourmand, I have to conclude that the Yelpers are closer to the truth than Michelin seems to be.



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