Harbor Village's dim sum is a treat


POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Deciding where to go for dim sum is a no-brainer for me. I live two miles from Chinatown, so the thought of going anywhere else does not register. Dim sum on the weekends marks one of the rare occasions when eating is not a matter of meeting deadlines, but relaxing over family ritual.




Harbor Village Cuisine


        Koko Marina Shopping Center (near Bark Avenue) » 395-2311

Food: ;*;*;*1/2


Service: ;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*1/2


Value: ;*;*;*


Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily Cost: About $30 for two without drinks


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average.


But, it was the deadline that led me to Harbor Village Cuisine in Koko Marina Center. I had to be in the mall one day on other business, so it was convenient to stay and eat there as well.

I learned I've been missing out on quite a bit over the 10 years it has been here. Harbor Village's longevity (no relation to the former Hong Kong Harbor Village) in an area not known for restaurant fidelity already tells you something. Apparently, chef-owner Kevin Lee is not content to serve the same old same old year after year, and he and dim sum chef Min Zhang annually travel to China and Hong Kong to pick up on new techniques and new trends as practiced in the motherland of Chinese cuisine.

Dim sum prices, mostly at $3.15 per dish, are higher than in Chinatown, but don't let that scare you. Kamaaina automatically receive a 10 percent discount, which brings the cost closer to other restaurants.

For the price, you get dumplings without fillers or gristly bits, in translucent rice flour and thin wheat flour skins. They're a little more liberal with the salt here than restaurants in Chinatown, but anyone raised on takeout teriyaki, kalbi or kalua pig probably wouldn't notice or care.

Instead of steamed mochi rice in lotus leaf ($4.10), you can save a dollar by ordering mochi rice balls ($3.15). They're more delicate than the former, and you'll be surprised by how quickly you can devour one, studded with flavor-enhancing bits of cilantro and lup cheong, wrapped in thin yellow siu mai skin.

Steamed Shanghai dumplings are also delicate, but manage to hold the soup inside the wrapper. Where other restaurants might offer six pieces per order, only three comprise the dish here, and the presentation left something to be desired. No spoons were offered to capture the dumplings and their liquid, and I had to ask for the red vinegar that usually arrives with the dish.

The real discovery here was a dessert dim sum of deep-fried green tea roll. As full as I was after the meal, I had to finish one piece of what is essentially jin dui, or a deep-fried mochi wrapper studded with sesame seeds, filled with a thick, savory green tea gelatin. I had picked up the piece with my hand and, upon feeling the light, airy, crispy exterior, was eager to take a bite. It was as wonderful as I sensed it would be.

BEYOND DIM SUM, the regular menu is also full of novelty, such as a dish of deep-fried anchovies sprinkled with garlic and peppers. Honestly, I'm kind of glad this restaurant is so far from where I live. Otherwise, I might devour these like potato chips every day. They're so crisp and addicting. After a while, you might even forget there are two little eyes staring at you. It was a real battle to stop munching on these things.

A standard kung pao shrimp ($12.50) actually had some fire to it, drizzled with chili oil and incorporating a handful of large whole chili pods that didn't add as much fire as they might have if chopped up.

Fans of curry might try a chicken hot pot ($13.95) with mild yellow coconut curry. It was a shame that I had ordered the salted fish and chicken rice ($12.95) because I didn't want to bury the salt fish flavor with curry. It marked one of the rare times that I've eaten two bowls of rice. I might be Chinese, but I can't usually stand white rice. I never liked it as a child, and it was only as an adult that I figured out the reason, as it happens to be a foodstuff devoid of nutritional value.

For a variation on the beef tenderloin dishes ($9.95), there is lamb ($11.95) stir-fried with ginger and green onion, but the lamb flavor was barely discernible amidst the ginger, so most would do just as well ordering a beef dish.

There are dozens of other dishes to explore, and I expect I'll get around to them. I did not have a bad dish here thus far. There always has to be a dish or two that bring you back to a restaurant when to do so is inconvenient, and for me, here, these were the green tea roll and anchovies.

Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.