Strictly for the Soft-Core – VIP Harbor Seafood, Dim Sum

vip harbor seafood

VIP Harbor Seafood

11701 Wilshire Boulevard< (at Barrington Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310.979.3377

I admire the hard core. The ones who go to great lengths. Out of their way. That extra mile. Like surfers who squeeze into a wetsuit so that they can catch a gnarly wave in 42 degree ocean water at 4 a.m. Or the artist who will teeter dangerously atop a crumbling wall just to get the most amazing photograph of a sunset, ever. Hard kore, with a k, because that’s killer.

chicken spring roll
a little dry…but closer than 90 seconds in a microwave

And there are also the hard kore fooders. Or foodists (I hate the word “foodie” and refuse to use it). He who gathers eleven of his most reliably wired friends to simultaneously call The French Laundry starting at exactly 8 a.m. because someone will get through to reservations. She who will eat ramen for a week just so she can blow $500 on a dinner for two at Urasawa. The guy who lives all the way down in San Clemente but will drive fifty miles for fire-breathing soon doo-boo in Koreatown. Wait in line for 45 minutes for a taco. Or a hot dog. Or dumplings. Or Armenian roast chicken.

I’ve been in the hard core camp before. In fact, I would say that I am there MOST of the time. Calling The French Laundry? Tried, but failed. But some day, that re-dial will get me through! Ramen five days in a row? I think I did that… just last week. I even brave the streets of the Korean ghetto at the dangerous hour 3 a.m. for yook-gae-jahng. Okay, but I draw the line at 45 minutes in line. Maybe twenty minutes. Half hour tops, and it better come with some goddam “garnish,” if you know what I mean.

But there are a few times when I fall into laziness. When the hard core foodist in me has to hibernate. I need to re-charge from the latest research romp down san vicente in an in-depth study of regional Italian restaurants. I need to re-load after that last drive through the ‘hood for barbecue. I’m just. Too. Focking. Tired. And Can-we-just-pickup-roast-chicken-at-Ralphs-just-don’t-tell-anyone? Convenience.

har gow
shrimp har gow that’s not horrible with this hangover
shumai
you have valet parking? great, i’ll take pork shu mai

And that’s what happened when a craving for dim sum hit me in one of my conveneince phases. A craving on the cusp. Not enough of whip me out of my lazy daze and get me in a car to drive 45 minutes to the SGV (not even 30 minutes to C-town, downtown), wait another 45 minutes for a table, then sit through the cacophonious Cantonese din with a hangover, just to dine on chow fun and cha shiu bao. But still enough of a craving that I would settle for sub-par har gow at VIP Harbor Seafood, 90 seconds from my house, with valet parking, and a subdued Brentwood atmosphere. Soft-core.

I’ve been there many many many times before. How many times? Lots. And I know that it’s a pretty westside-ernized version of dim sum, but sometimes, you take har gow, shu mai, chicken spring rolls, vegetable dumplings, chow fun, eggplant shrimp, bell pepper shrimp, and especially garlic dou miao, in whatever way you can get it. Not to mention those naughty little deep fried sesame balls. Jin dui?

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  • Xericx

    I love Dim Sum. Too bad Royal Star doesn’t serve it anymore ( I think ). Haven’t been to VIP though…not really aching to go either, I hate that Minimall for some reason (I think its the forced Valet even though they have a parking lot).

  • sarah

    yeah, i was a little disappointed when royal star discontinued their dim sum – thought that maybe having two on the westside would up the competitive factor and increase the quality. alas – no, so vip can get away with shoddy-ass shu mai – lol!

    not sure why royal star would stop doing it, though, since it was so incredibly busy there the few times we went.

    but at least vip is better than chin chin – lol! and i won’t even get STARTED on chin chin, though i’d love to rip right now because i’m sorta in that mood. how on EARTH do they stay in business with that food?

  • Xericx

    Yeah. I’m 5 minutes away from Chin Chin in the Marina and I’ve only been once in 10 years.

  • susan

    lol. i was in lazy mode last week and did buy ralph’s roast chicken. shhh…

  • BBQ Junkie

    There was a group of us from work that used to go (quite frequently) to Royal Star until it was closed by the Health Department a couple of years ago. They eventually re-opened, but they were no longer serving dim sum. Coincidence?

    I don’t mind VIP too much. Especially the “crunchy cart,” that’s the one with all of the deep fat fried goodness that is oh-so-bad for us. Plus, they have the dessert cart… that’s something that Royal Star never had.

  • Anonymous

    “big lu said…
    There was a group of us from work that used to go (quite frequently) to Royal Star until it was closed by the Health Department a couple of years ago. They eventually re-opened, but they were no longer serving dim sum. Coincidence?

    I don’t mind VIP too much. Especially the “crunchy cart,” that’s the one with all of the deep fat fried goodness that is oh-so-bad for us. Plus, they have the dessert cart… that’s something that Royal Star never had.”

    G_d I hate this when people spew forth false information. It is done all the time on CH’s, it is done in the LA Times Food articles.

    1st of all, dessert cart? Even ‘Jerome’ on CH’s does not understand ‘traditional’ or older style Chinese food, only what they get served when they were in China at the time. Sure Jerome links to articles discussing past food trends, but those articles are limited in scope and do not apply to all areas of the vary wide range of Chinese cuisine. What is traditional? For the last 10 years, for the current generation of 20 and under crowd? Forget what russkar says, he only knows more recent trends. Better to follow J. Gold’s insights. FYI, Cantonese dim sum/yum cha goes back to times before HK was under British influence, I’m talking about mainland Cantonese, vs newer trendy, in the last century HK style dim sum. HK style dim sum, is more varied and in constant flux. So what is authentic or traditional anyway? Depends on the time period you are speaking of.

    I have been a customer of Royal Star for 10+yrs. Until they stopped doing Dim Sum service, that is almost all I ever ordered, and I ordered takeout everytime! (note to Sarah, get a nice bambo steamer, order take out; then you can go home and eat at a pace and leasure with the wine or tea served at exactly the temperature you like!). Pastery service is ‘newer’ age HK style. Go back 50years and Cantonese Dim Sum had no such custard tarts or any of the other desserts you see now.

    My mother had Syl Mai growing up in the Chinese area of Honolulu, which hand only pork, no shrimp in it at all… shrimp in a time when most of you were not born, cannot comprehend, was a luxury item for most people, including HK Chinese that are not wealthy. So shrimp was not usually part of the syl mai dumpling until more recent times.

    Royal Star stopped doing Dim Sum service only ONE year ago around August. I know because I got Dim Sum almost every month for a weekend takeout Sunday wine bunch. FYI, I have tried VIP since they opened years ago, and they have NEVER been up to the quality of Royal Star’s Dim Sum. I have never been sick from eating Dim Sum from Royal Star, but I have from Sushi restaurants.

    The Dim Sum at VIP has always disappointed me, having tried it again a couple of times since Royal Star stopped it’s service last summer. Now I go to Empress Harbor or New Concept, which is just off, south of the 10Fwy and typically a quick drive if you go before 11AM (usually I go to both, and get a specific selections from each). Forget Empress Pavilion, I have also been going there for 10+years, and recently they have dropped in quality below what was servered at RS. VIP & EP are different, EP used to be better than VIP, but now they recently been using something like chicken stock instead of water when steaming the dumplings… at least thats what it tastes like, every dumpling has a pervasive chicken aroma… yuck!

    I have spoken to the owner of Royal Star, since they stopped Dim Sum service, and I repeat, this was last summer! I posted to CH’s the 1st week of May 2005 on this issue. Recently I went to RS for some takeout dinner and asked the owner again about Dim Sum and she told me that while they had the business on the weekends, during the weekdays customers would only order the lunch special. It costs $$$ to have an extended staff, carts, special Dim Sum chefs, additional managers; all for weekend crowds that did not materialize on weekdays.

    The owner of RS told me she lost money on the Dim Sum service. VIP undoubtedly, because of it’s 2nd floor location in and smaller square footage of lease space, can get buy with the Dim Sum service, and break even on costs of doing such. Royal Star could not, unfortunately. Lease space where you have the ability of weekday and weekend customers in the Chinese/Asian communities makes for a marginally profitable business. I’ll be willing to bet that even Sea Harbour makes most of their profits on the more expensive, higher profit margin seafood entrees, including the dinner service.

    Royal Star may not make it, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the health department. I especially don’t like the deep fried items at VIP, Royal Star used to have a deep fried Fun Gow/Fun Gor, it was a weekend special that you had to be ‘in the know’ to get, when done well, it was a light golden brown crispy shell, much more flavorful that the steamed version, that was better than the darker/oily/soggy version that they now have at Empress Pavilion. Big Lu doesn’t know what he’s talking about… typical of the ignorant CH’s wanna be foodies.

    Listen to the DimSum master, get the take out, reheat under low boil with your bambo steamer, take deep fried items and put into the PREHEATED oven at 300-325F; and you will end up with more uniformly evenly heated Dim Sum treats, that you can sit back at your leasure drinking wine or tea with. Avoid the communal din of the banquet halls, and go for the sinfully tasty treats at home!

    Here’s a pict of my friend (Photoshop disguised) and our Sunday feast, usually we have at least 3 different wines to try, to see which goes best with the different favorite Dim Sum items.

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v103/udaman/Wine-et%20al/DimSum-Broganwines.jpg

    The sweet sour sauce in the photo is from Royal Star, they have the version that my mother likes and remebers from Hawaii when she lived there 50yrs ago. Most of the sweet/sour sauces in the restaurants are more assertive tart/sour in nature…which is actually more Taiwanese influenced. The owner of Royal Star is from Taiwan, she’s not Cantonese.

    How is that for being informative?

    LACheesemonger

  • sarah

    now now, play nice, lacheesemonger ;)

    anyway, thanks again for all your great info about dim sum…i still consider myself very new to dim sum, since the first time i ever experienced it was in SF about 10 years ago. since then, my sister’s husband has been taking us and showing/teaching us, but he always tells us that there’s so much more to it than just the ten or so things that i always see on the carts in l.a. restaurats.

    and by the way – just recently went to JR Seafood and Royal Star for dinner and will be writing those up shortly. will be interested in your thoughts on their regular food, too! ;)

  • Jerome

    first, fun article and fun blog. thanks for linking it on chowhound.

    Second to lacheesemonger – why the animosity? If i don’t understand something, please inform me. I don’t go on about dimsum places. i’ve never been to Hong Kong or Canton or to Guangdong province, period.

    I do know something about yumcha history and legend, the tradition of walking caged songbirds, counting dishes, some folks tossing them out the window into a stream, etc.

    if I don’t jump up and down when I hear of foie gras being put into steamed bao, sorry. You like J. Gold? so do I. if you find your tastes consistenly concur with his, great. If I’m surprized by what I take to be your hostility, perhaps I’m just reading too much into the passion I saw here.

    incidentally, I used to go to Royal Star for dim sum on occasion. my only issue was that the variety was limited. But if you look at dimsum threads, I’m not usually a big participant.

    Nice blog, Sarah.

  • copykat

    vip is right around the corner from us, and we also succumb to the laziness (particularly when hungover). one tip: order the salt & pepper squid from the kitchen when you go in for dim sum. it will come out hot and it’s not half bad.

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