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).
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.
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.
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.