At 10:15am we drove by Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant and the parking lot was nearly empty. Early for our dim sum date, we decided to do a quick run-through at Ranch 99, the cavernous Asian supermarket, where you can find everything from fresh Japanese ramen noodles to ready-to-steam Chinese buns filled with bean paste to pork. After our quick run-through, we headed back to the restaurant to find the parking lot nearly full, only 15 minutes later.
We were quickly whisked to a table across from the chefs who were ladling up pots of thick, steamy soup and savory stir-fried mustard greens, near stacks of fresh seafood tanks brimming with crabs, lobsters, and clams. Our friends arrived shortly after the hot pot of jasmine tea was delivered to our table, and the ordering began in ernest.
Peter and Peter (our friends who had joined us and recommended this place) had dined here many many times, so we left it to them to order. And order they did. From vegetable siu mei, little steamed dumplings filled with lotus root and mushrooms, to a plate of shredded jellyfish and seaweed salad, we ordered course after course from the carts and trays that were offered continously throughout our eating extravaganza.
I'm personally not a fan of shrimp (so shoot me) but everyone I was with was, so we ordered big shrimp balls (chopped shrimp mixed with rice), plump shrimp tucked into slippery rice noodles, puffy fried shrimp rolls, delicate steamed shrimp and scallop dumplings, and traditional steamed shrimp and pork siu mei dumplings. I tried them all, and being a shrimp-non-lover, even I thought they were good.
Little puffy steamed pork buns arrived, and I was in heaven. And then I found all the other lovely things they could do with pork: crispy BBQ pork pastries and round baked pork rolls, steamed pork short ribs, and thin layers of bean curd rolled around a pork and shrimp filling (for even this I could forgive the shrimpy shellfish).
Going to eat dim sum is like going to a smorgasbord of food, fun, and flavors. As the waiters go by, you get to choose things you only have an instant to decide whether you might love or would rather have passed by. A plate of mini red octopus (surprisingly sweet and cold but delicious nonetheless), cold poached chicken served with a heady ginger-green onion sauce, crispy-fried shredded taro root cakes, and the most delicious surprise of all, fried salt-and-pepper tofu sprinkled with deep-fried baby eels and garlic (incredibly crispy on the outside and sooooo creamy on the inside, which I could not stop eating, even after I thought I would burst).
A few things I could have lived without, like the glutinous rice steamed in a lotus leaf with chicken and mushrooms (um, oh so glutinous) or the steamed chicken with dried mushroom and some sort of glutinous gelatinous blob (are you seeing a trend here?). But overall, there were so many offerings, I only wished I could have tried more (like the beautiful seared potstickers I never got to sink my teeth into - drat). Maybe next time we'll come with a much bigger group of people--which I recommend--so we can share the bounty. But we'd better get there early, because by the time we left, around noon, it was beyond packed.
Saigon Seafood Harbor Restaurant
3150 Pierce St. (at Central)