Lunasia: Clinging to Top Tier in Competitive L.A. Dim Sum Scene

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Dim Sum Los Angeles


At the end of December, the majority partner of Triumphal Palace transformed the lauded Alhambra restaurant into Lunasia Chinese Cuisine. Back then, Tony C. from SinoSoul was nice enough to help overcome my language barrier, calling on my behalf to learn that Lunasia retained the chef who elicited three stars from LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila. His discovery motivated a dim sum journey. Some of Lunasia’s dishes were every bit as good as Triumphal Palace, and two fell short, but Lunasia still resides near the top of L.A.’s highly competitive dim sum scene.

Cart service frequently sacrifices dim sum freshness and increases frustration; the prized plate inevitably arrives as soon as you pay the check. Lunasia’s sprawling 87-item checklist was populated with some pedestrian options, and many others that were unique. Prices ranged from S ($1.98) to Kit ($6.88).

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Shrimp Har Gow ($2.98) were definitely respectable, with thin skins and plump shrimp.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Lunasia’s B.B.Q. Pork Buns ($1.98) weren’t the best in the San Gabriel Valley, but they were warm and sticky and the minced meat wasn’t candy sweet or gelatinous.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Pan-Fried Pot Stickers ($2.98) featured thin skins that were blistered and oily in all the right ways. Unfortunately, the filling could have used more pork and less vegetable filler.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Durian Pastries ($2.98) were astoundingly good, with flaky, buttery pastry and creamy durian custard that thankfully didn’t impart too much of the fruit’s famously pungent stench.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Sauteed Eggplant ($5.88) was so tender it was practically spreadable. Yes, the light brown sauce could have used more kick, but the texture was just right when paired with crunchy strips of bamboo and scallions.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Pan-Fried Turnip Cake in X.O. Sauce ($5.88) was likely Lunasia’s best dish. The moist turnip cakes were seared in a wok at high heat with the famous brown sauce that hosted the unmistakable flavor of dried seafood.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
Lunasia’s only major letdown was the Enoki Mushroom Roll ($2.98), an unappetizing clump of under-seasoned mushrooms paired with limp strips of sea cucumber.

Dim Sum Los Angeles
BBQ Pork was undoubtedly Triumphal Palace’s best option, even though it never made the dim sum menu. At Lunasia, it’s on the menu, but somehow Smoked Pork Shank ($5.88) sounded like a better idea. It wasn’t. the cool, thin-sliced shank was fine, especially the crunchy outer layer of fat/cartilage. The tangy dish of red vinegar helped to cut the pork’s richness, but Lunasi’s dish wasn’t nearly as memorable at the predecessor’s pork.

Leading up to the meal, it was interesting to study Lunasia’s dinner menu. Their Cantonese cuisine clearly becomes more ambitious as the day deepens, featuring appetizers like deep-fried young squab, wine-preserved pig tongue and preserved chicken feet with salt ginger sauce. If you’re willing to order in advance, it’s even possible to experience stewed turtle soup ($68), Japanese supreme crown abalone ($68) and roasted whole suckling pig ($188).

It was somewhat surprising to see that Lunasia prepares Shark’s Fin Dumpling. Yao Ming would be pissed. The NBA star is an activist for shark preservation, railing against Chinese fishermen who cut off the prized fins and leave the predators for dead in the ocean.

Lunasia’s dim sum was hardly perfect, but the tastes and menu were clearly promising enough to justify a return visit.

Lunasia: Clinging to Top Tier in Competitive L.A. Dim Sum Scene

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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As of 2011, shark’s fin has been banned in California. Any dish with shark’s fin in it will actually be imitation shark’s fin, which is made out of gelatin.

atarunomiko,

Thanks for updating readers on the shark fin ban. This review was long before the ban took effect. Are you in support of the ban or not? Shark fin is not something that I’ll miss from menus, especially after hearing how people harvest the fins, but it is interesting that foie gras is the ban that got infinitely more attention in California.

Hence the clarification that I was speaking of the law since 2011. 🙂

I have mixed feelings about the ban because I sympathize about the cruelty of the way that it is harvested, but shark’s fin soup is something I have always adored, so much so that my parents always treated me to shark’s fin every year on my birthday since I was a toddler (and I even made an exception for it for the couple of years I was trying to be a vegetarian). The imitation stuff is surprisingly close, but not good enough imho.

What I’ve always wondered is why they throw the rest of the shark back in the water? That, and not the killing of the animal in the first place, is the heart of the controversy, as I understand it. As the selling of shark steak hasn’t been outlawed, I read that some Asian-American advocacy groups are protesting this ban as racist or discriminatory against Chinese people, since it’s Chinese fishermen who are taking the hit (it certainly isn’t the restaurants, who don’t seem to have lowered their prices for dishes containing the fake stuff). My question is, can’t the harvesters take the whole shark and sell it? I understand that some species are endangered, and shark steak is not as popular, but not all sharks are endangered, and there are many applications for shark that does not require the palettes of American diners to change: pet food, fertilizers (many of which are made from the meal of trash fish or undesirable fish parts already), etc. So I think that a compromise could be struck in which the entire shark is used rather than polluting the ocean with their remains. I suppose that the carcasses are heavier, take up more space on the boat, and are not worth it to process due to the lack of marketability, but I think being able to sell it at all is better than having your entire livelihood taken away. And they can always charge higher prices to account for the extra work involved. Nobody’s going to die if they can’t afford shark’s fin, and the people who can afford it aren’t going to go broke if they have to pay a little more. It’s not like huge quantities are needed either, since the soups generally don’t contain a huge amount of shark’s fin relative to other ingredients.

That *is* interesting about the foie gras ban. I’m not sure if it’s because shark’s fin is more of an issue for Chinese-American communities than the general population (read: white people), or because geese are cuter and people are afraid of sharks. I’m torn about this issue as well, as an owner of a very pampered curly-feathered Sebastopol show goose (Google it if you haven’t seen one; they have a very unique look). I don’t see a way around the cruelty to produce this dish, as cruelty-free foie gras just doesn’t taste the same.

My mom just ordered some take-out dim sum from here. She was very disappointed by the vegetarian dim sum she ordered – even the rice dumpling was not great. However! The winners out of her order (and luckily she saved some for me and I concur with her opinion) steamed chicken buns, Taro (snow cap buns) and the baked chicken buns. I’d get those again in a heartbeat!

got food posioning in ther last week; i am not going again

The best food in usa. i am willing to pay higher for its quality. I almost visit this restaurant 4 days a week; and the quality is over 100%. I encourage u guys go there have dinner; lobster is the best that i ever had. The waiter is handsome and polite.

The environment is nice; but food is pricy. The quality of food is dropping. My Co-workers have food posioing in there

Price charge too much on party; food quality is average.

Hugo,

I received several reports that Lunasia’s food quality has gone downhill. I hope that’s not the case, since the restaurant was leading the dim sum charge in the SGV.

seafood village in arcadia is cheaper and have same quality of food, dim sum dishes all are 1.68 mon-friday

the same as other dim sum; only the environment is better.

Have been going there couple times and love their food, till today. THey changed their menu and removed many good innovative dim sum dishes. Now they are just an average dim sum restaurant, nothing more. Good there if you are already in the ‘hood. If not, don’t waste your gas money.

GK,

Thanks for the update. Sorry to hear about the changes at Lunasia. I’m interested to check out the new menu to see just how far gone their dim sum has become.

[…] Food GPS » Blog Archive » Lunasia – Alhambra, CA – April 19, 2009 http://www.foodgps.com/lunasia-%E2%80%93-alhambra-ca-april-19-2009 – view page – cached Dedicated to pinpointing the highest quality, best tasting food, regardless of price or ethnicity. — From the page […]

[…] Local foodie web-site, Food GPS, was all over the re-opening of Lunasia, and has a review online, “Lunasia – Alhambra, CA – April 19, 2009“. […]

Thanks for writing this review of the refurbished Lunasia restaurant. We’re taking a crew of cyclists this coming May 17th to check them out!

You’re welcome to join us again, if you like.

Hope you like Lunasia. Make sure to double down on durian pastries and pan-fried turnip cake in XO sauce. Skip those enoki rolls for sure. I’m tripling up on eating events tomorrow, so I might be comatose on Sunday morning, but that would be fun to join Flying Pigeon.

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[…] Food GPS » Blog Archive » Lunasia – Alhambra, CA – April 19, 2009 […]

Tried this place. Not as good as I expected. The prices seem a bit steep compared to other places. Higher level dim sum food items are quite expensive. Do not plan to return as the quality has gone down and prices have gotten too high.

Wow… those Durian Pastries look amazing.

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