Sunday, August 20, 2006
the dowager empress, queen of the 'b's.
i didn't want to have this photo as the header, but you know how i feel about asian restaurants with marginal health code ratings. suffice it to say, i'm more than okay with it, and apparently so are the thousands of people who throng to empress pavilion in la's chinatown.
empress pavilion is, imo, the queen of the dim sum/yum cha trolley palaces, in los angeles. there are no doubt more innovative, interesting, and tastier dim sum places in the region, but for sheer volume, consistency, and quality in the face of its popularity, it ranks right up there at the top. weekdays host a large crowd, but nothing near as much weekend brunches, where being seated 'within the hour' is considered reasonable. the crowds and waiting time can swell to the point of absurdity, but instead of eating elsewhere, i've noticed that many people will actually just start ordering dishes from the adjacent takeaway shop instead of giving up their place on the list. it is so ridiculous that my cousin and i are hatching a plot to rent the space directly across from empress pavilion--we are going to recreate their façade faithfully, down to the brass letter, only call our place "temptress pagoda." we're going to take in the overflow and/or completely confused clientele, then just run over to empress's takeaway joint and serve their dim sum in our place. bwaharrrr.
here's some tips: go for breakfast. no, really. come here at 9am, it's never crowded--it's just me and a bunch of old chinese men having their morning tea and dumplings. the selection isn't quite as varied, but it is as fresh as it's going to get. if you come when it's crowded, make nice with your waiter and you can ask for specific dishes, which he'll bring from the cart for you. maybe. or, if you are delegated to a far reaching corner, make free to leave your table and chase down a cart for what you want (don't forget to bring your ticket for trolley lady to mark). it's probably quite a bad mannered thing to do, but i haven't heard anyone complain, nor has anyone chastised me for doing so (just keep it to a minimum unless you are really, really hungry. chances are they know well enough not to mess with a famished one). grab your dessert early, especially their faboo dun tat/custard tarts--they do run out.
and now, a bunch o'thumbnails for you to click on of things i have snagged from the cart lately....
char siu bao/roast pork buns--good, a little sweet, nicely fluffy; scallop with pea shoots--scallop sweet and tender, pea shoots an interesting vegetal element that adds just a bit of earthy flavour; scallop dumpling; har gow/prawn dumpling--slightly bland, but prawn nicely cooked, tender; cheong fun/minced beef with a mild seasoning in a rice noodle roll, served with a sweetened soy-based sauce--the rice rolls is not too sticky, and doesn't overwhelm the filling; scallop and prawn dumpling.
wu gok/chopped pork, prawns and vegetables in deep-fried taro pastry--slightly oily, but nicely light in texture, not gummy; jow har gok/prawn turnovers in glutinous rice pastry--also slightly oily, but not gummy; an interesting prawn wrapped in rice paper roll, then garnished with a ring of fried taro pastry--the prawn was plump and juicy, but the rice wrapper slightly too dry, could have used a dipping sauce; deep-fried cigars of minced prawns wrapped in nori seaweed--excellent, very shrimpy; mango and prawns wrapped in rice paper then dipped in an egg batter and fried--sweet, tender, quite good when warm; pan fried meat and chive dumplings--slightly oily with a slightly too thick wrapper, but bursting with chives and minced pork.
congee/jook/rice porridge--this one was chock full of dried scallop and preserved vegetables, a perfect breakfast item; chinese broccoli with oyster sauce--still crispy and very green; fried rice with mushroom, prawn, chicken and roasted pork, wrapped in lotus leaf--they have the sticky rice version, but prefer this as it's not so heavy (however, it is tricky to eat); ngau yuk/steamed beef clumps--meatballs seasoned with ginger and chives, light and tasty; see jup pai guat/steamed pork ribs seasoned with black beans, garlic, salt, oil, sugar, and pepper--oily, piggy, tender and salty; roast duck-a little fatty, skin not too crisp, but the meat quite tender; char siu/roast pork--super fakey colour, a little too fatty, but not-overly seasoned and quite tender.
obviously i like this place. although there's nothing i can think of (besides the dun tat/custard tarts) i must insist upon, there's nothing on the trolleys i'd actively avoid--even the bowl of guts is pretty tasty, although heavingly large. it is solidly dependable (the guts and the restaurant). this of course, does not even begin to cover the selection--i'll be back to try the rest. maybe you'll join me?
see the flickr slide show.
(in the chinatown bamboo plaza)
988 n. hill street,
los angeles 90012.