December 22 marks this year’s Winter Solstice. While it’s rarely more than a footnote on Western calendars, Winter Solstice (冬至), the shortest day of the year, is celebrated as a festival by many traditional Chinese families. It’s an occasion for family reunions and practically synonymous with a dessert dish called tangyuan, glutinous rice balls served in a sweetened syrup.
Joy Hing is famous, so famous, in fact, that it passes the Wikipedia benchmark of notability– behold its Wikipedia article [link]. Joy Hing has been around in some shape or form since the tail end of the Qing dynasty. It is an old school food joint, very low-key and unpretentious, serving up Cantonese-style rotisserie meats called siu mei (燒味). And Joy Hing does a wonderful job at living up to its Chinese name, “happy again.”
Tim Ho Wan is often billboarded as the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant. Its chef-owner, Mak Kwai Pui, is a former head chef of a famous Hong Kong hotel. In 2010, he established the first Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok, which has since grown into a venerable restaurant chain, with 5 branches in Hong Kong (the most well-known of which is in Sham Shui Po), not to mention other Asian cities, like Singapore and Manila.
Mongkok Dim Sum (旺閣點心) is really just for quick pick dim sum. San Francisco has quite a lot of them, more so than LA, places whose sole business model is to serving large-scale to-go dim sum. In LA, dim sum is typically only found at Cantonese or Teochew seafood restaurants. I give Mongkok a lukewarm recommendation, only because it fulfilled its duty: getting us full.
Every year, my mom’s side of the family gathers for a Chinese-style banquet dinner to celebrate Father’s Day. I’ve missed this event for the past four years, because of conflicts with finals. This year, I finally had the chance the chance to join again to indulge. At dinner, my mom jokingly quipped that we were having an eight-course dinner because ‘eight’ in Chinese (八) sounds like ‘dad’ (爸).
The reservations were at New Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights, one of the few major restaurants in the area to serve Chinese banquet meals. I’m personally not too fond of fancy feasts (pardon the unintentional pun), because the portions are overwhelming and the dishes are pretty bland (texture-wise and in taste).
Since it was Father’s Day, there was a huge hoard of families waiting in the lobby and outside, since the restaurant was packed to the brim. Luckily, my aunt had made reservations for a banquet room a few days before.
Traditionally, Cantonese meals include two soups, a savory soup presented at the beginning, and a dessert soup at the end. The fish maw wasn’t excessively salty, but it wasn’t particularly appetizing either. Nonetheless, I drank two bowls of it.
Along with the soup came a cold cut platter of roasted meats, including char siu pork, chicken, seaweed, jellyfish, and roasted beef. Since most of my family doesn’t consume beef, it all went to waste, for both tables.
Next was the much beloved candied walnut and shrimps with mayonnaise, one of my favorites of the night.
Next were the stir-fried scallops with asparagus. I like the special attention to presentation. But the dish was just alright. Greasy and boring by the second serving.
The fifth dish to be presented were the braised sea cucumbers with bok choy and mushrooms. Sea cucumbers were so sparingly used, I found only a sliver to try… Not that sea cucumbers are particularly tasty. P.S. A lot of Chinese folks think that sea cucumbers are a panacea, curing everything from sexual dysfunction to high cholesterol.
The king of all courses was the rock lobster, fried with a starchy batter. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire lobster (not least because my prime lens makes it hard to take photos of large objects), but because the lobster was humongous, much larger than I’ve encountered at most restaurants.
Eating lobster is tedious, because of all the shells and compartments you have to gnaw your way through. These darn crustaceans… Nothing special, if you ask me.
Another one of my favorites for the night was the Peking roast duck, eaten with little mantou-like breads, on which hoisin sauce is slathered on. The duck was finely sliced, and the skin was crispy and the meat tender. Also, the meat wasn’t as fatty as I anticipated.
As we headed toward the end of the meal, we were served soy sauce chicken and a plate of fried (and uncut) noodles. As the name implies, the soy sauce chicken was pretty salty. I didn’t try to attempt seconds.
After all the main course dishes were taken away, a server dropped off the final dish of the evening, a dessert soup made of red beans, translucent tapioca pearls and lotus seeds. I thought the soup was very watery and diluted. Most likely, the restaurant was rationing this dessert soup, because of a busy night.
I loved the tea that was served for the evening though. The chrysanthemum tea was very crisp and full, with the subtle fragrance of chrysanthemums. The Oolong tea had a nice kick and aroma as well.
A note on the service: I was perturbed, as was the rest of my family, at the pacing of the meal. The servers frequently came into the room to bring out one dish after another, as if they wanted us out as quickly as possible. Also, the servers were removing plates left and right, even though we were clearly not done. I can say that within 30 minutes, all of the major dishes were served, which is highly unusual at a banquet style meal. I understand that it was a busy night, but it’s downright rude to rush a special meal.
New Capital Seafood (半島海鮮酒家)
1330 S Fullerton Rd, Ste 207
Rowland Heights, CA 91748