Monday, July 20, 2009

Dim Sum & Then Some - Ocean Star, Monterey Park

Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
A few weeks ago, as we were getting ready to go to LA, I happened to pick up and re-peruse the May issue of Gourmet magazine. The newer issue had already arrived, but you know how that goes. You get a magazine in the mail, pick flip and through it, put it down and it promptly gets covered by the eighteen other magazines that arrive that week. On this second look though, an article about Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley caught my eye. I've heard that this area is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in the country, but I've always been intimidated by the idea of all Chinese menus, and waiters who don't speak English. Then again, I guess that's pretty silly. If I'd travel to a foreign country without a second thought, why should I be afraid to venture into a neighborhood where the signs and menus are in a foreign language?
Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
The article emboldened me, and on the drive up I researched the list of recommendations on the iPhone. My original thought was that we would stop for a late lunch, since we were headed up the 15 to avoid the beach traffic - but by the time we hit LA it was getting a little late, and we wanted something quick. We decided to head to LA Mill for our afternoon snack and scout a place to stop for dim sum on Sunday on the way back.
Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
Though the magazine inspired the outing - we wound up going to Ocean Star on the recommendation of a Twitter friend from San Diego - Andrew, aka cgfan. From what I could tell it was one of the "biggies" - there are a couple of large dim sum restaurants out there that came up over and over again as I was doing the research. We invited a local friend to join us, which worked out well since he lives in Pasadena, just a few minutes away.
Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
When we first arrived the scale of the place was overwhelming - the dining room stretches for as far as the eye can see, and people were crammed into a waiting room the size of a hotel lobby. Rick got there first and got the table after a short wait. Right away, the ladies started rolling by with the carts. The first one to arrive was the cart stacked with stainless steel trays of steamed items.
I'd only really had dim sum once before in San Francisco and it wasn't very good - so when the food started coming, I didn't know what to take, what to look for, or how often they would come around. Confronted with the mind-boggling array of choices on the carts, I did what any self-respecting curious foodie would do, and took way too much.
Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park

Then again, at $1.75 a plate, experimentation is practically mandatory. It's also a good thing I did branch out, since I was surprised to find I was wrong about some of the things I thought I'd like. I much preferred the savory steamed items (especially the shrimp and scallop dumplings and soup dumplings) to the fried and baked ones - which seemed either too greasy or too sweet. I was surprised to find that I really liked the pastries filled with red bean paste, something I'd never had before and would not have chosen had I known what was in them. (They're the sesame seed studded balls shown above.) The fried shrimp were greasy and mushy, a total miss - but this isn't the kind of place where you'd send food back. I just had the busboy pick them up on his next go-round.
James and Rick at Ocean Star
Rick is vegetarian, so we had a chance to try several of their meatless items. The cold tofu was delicious, though I'm pretty sure the broth they poured over it was made with stock (Rick shrugged it off like a trouper.) We asked for extra of the potent chili oil to drag the vegetable shu mai through, and then ordered Tsing Tao beers to wash it all down.
Dim Sum Menu at Ocean Star
Unfortunately, I was long past full when this cart with these black bean sauced clams came by. There were other items on the menu I never saw, and other items on the carts that we just couldn't get to. If we do get a chance to go back (or even to another similar dim sum house) we'll know better what to expect and perhaps pace ourselves a bit. Dim Sum at Ocean Star - Monterey Park
On this trip though, we ate well, we had a great time, and we tried something new. It wasn't all perfect but it was a lot of fun - and that in and of itself was worth the price of admission.

Ocean Star
145 N Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 308-2128
recommended dishes: the steamed items - especially the soup dumplings and scallop and shrimp dumplings, cold tofu, sesame pastries filled with red bean paste.


  1. Cool! Looks fun if a little overwhelming! I always find that they bring something round just when I think I'm going to burst.

    I dont eat meat and I definitely find it a bit of a challenge at these places, there are often finely chopped little bits of beef and pork in things, a hefty dose of what you dont know cant hurt you helps!!

  2. Wow! My mouth is watering. I love any kind of steamed dumpling too. Can't get enough of the stuff. We should go to Emerald together one day soon!

  3. What? No stewed chicken feet? That's what Chuck ordered last time we had Dim Sum, your experience sounds so much more appetizing.

  4. I prefer Jasmine and China Max for dim sum in San Diego. Emerald is good, too, but I prefer the first two.

    I have been to Ocean Star several years ago; it is a huge restaurant, and looks a bit brighter than I remembered. There are so many dim sum restaurants in the Monterey Park area that it's hard to choose when you're not in the area very often. Many of them don't have the A designation from the health department, but that doesn't seem to keep people away!

  5. Hey Alice - I think you'd appreciate the "new style" Dim Sum at Sea Harbour or Elite if you're in the area in the future.

  6. I've always liked the Dim Sum @ Jasmine in Linda Vista. It is quite the scene on Sundays - get there when they open.
    Your post has inspired me to seek out good Dim Sum in DC/Northern VA.

  7. Alice, this is so funny, but Ben and I went up to LA last weekend to go on a little Asian adventure. We went to a Korean BBQ Sunday night, which was good, not great — they used gas not charcoal. We spend the night in Korea town and then drove to the San Gabriel Valley the next morning for Dim Sum. We ended up going to a place called Elite Restaurant in Monterey Park. It was incredible! Everything. Next time we head up there, we might have to try Ocean star. It's so fun getting out of San Clemente and getting into some really colorful neighborhoods. We're headed up to Santa Ana tonight to try a Vietnamese restaurant. Should be fun.


  8. About 4 or 5 years ago Sally and her husband, the Dim Sum Chefs left Ocean Star-Monterey does anyone know where they went........Looking for Sally