Chinatown: Dim Sum at Empress Pavilion
I remember when Empress Pavilion opened in Chinatown. It was the hot place to go and continued to be a staple. I even had my college graduation brunch there. Over the years, the quality lagged and the last time I went, it was deplorable. It struggled and eventually closed. I thought it was about time. Others mourned.
Parking was a breeze — it was quite difficult during the most popular years. We had made reservations but there wasn’t any wait during prime time on a Saturday. That was my first warning sign.
Empress Pavilion has dim sum carts and they trundled by bearing their dumplings and other delights. We got all the basics like crystal shrimp (har gow) and siu mai out of the way. They were okay. the siu mai were slightly better while the wrappers for the har gow fell apart.
Although we probably shouldn’t have gotten any starches, we ordered up two rounds of lotus wrapped sticky rice. It was excellent.
We had a good laugh about the cart that serves loh bak goh. The daikon cakes are “grilled” in front of you (or in our case, nearby) to give it a faint patina but really, we know they’re pre-cooked.
I tend to order any dumplings I see so that’s how we ended up with the shrimp and pea tendril dumplings. These were much better than the har gow.
The chicken feet were good though nothing particularly special about the sauce. I found myself thinking about the chicken feet at my recent dim sum adventure at Shi Hai, one of the few items I actually liked.
I was so mad about the egg rolls! These aren’t dim sum egg rolls but the crap kind they give you at fast food Chinese places with steam tables. Ugh! Where’s the meat? This is all veggies. Gross. (Yes, I’m passionate about good egg rolls.)
People seemed to enjoy the BBQ pork buns. I skipped to save stomach room.
We opted for the gai lan as that was the most acceptable greens for the table. I commented these plates reminded me of the sort found at Hong Kong style cafes with a little well for oyster sauce.
We actually got several cheung fun including shrimp, beef and BBQ pork. I ate only the shrimp as that’s my favorite. The noodle was pretty good but shrimp wasn’t particularly the freshest.
I laughed at the old-school presentation of the jelly fish with half a maraschino cherry. The brave souls who tried it said it was chewy-crunchy — as it should be.
I was a little bit surprised by the tofu wrapped veggies. One of the rolls seemed dried out while it was too saucy in general.
One of the best dishes were the ribs. The pai gwok were fatty with a nice sauce. Others complained there weren’t any black beans (Chinese fermented soy beans) but I pick them out anyway so it didn’t bother me.
In my experimental dumplings quest, we ended up with shrimp and pea dumplings. These were not as successful as the other shrimp dumplings were.
A server wandered by with fried shrimp and it ended up being a good decision and something to much on while waiting for more carts to roll by.
We thought the taro and pork wuu gok were pretty bad. They were very oily and not much pork. I also hate when they’re cold which made them even greasier.
The shrimp toast was quite interesting in concept. Visually, they were stunning but the execution wasn’t there. The rolled up bread was only partially fried leaving it very doughy in the middle. There was also not much flavor unless you dipped everything in the mayo.
We ended with egg tarts. These were a crazy hue which made everyone suspicious until I mentioned perhaps the eggs were from chicken that didn’t eat regular feed but gasp, insects! They were pretty good.
Overall, I would return to Empress Pavilion because of its central location. However I like the dim sum better in the San Gabriel Valley. They are still working on some kinks. Service was a bit slow and tables weren’t being cleared right away. We sat next to three dirty tables the whole time we were there. Empress Pavilion has always been a classier joint than its sister dim sum palaces. I hope they get back to that level of grace soon.
Empress Pavilion988 N Hill St., Los Angeles, CA 90012 — (213) 595-6886
© The Minty 2014