Saturday, March 26, 2005

Taste test: New Concept

We tried to get to New Concept for dim sum several weeks ago, before the Chowhounds and the L.A. Times tried it. But circumstances intervened, and it didn't happen until this weekend. At noon Saturday, the wait turned out to be well over an hour, so I was about ready to pass out when we finally sat down. A waiter passing by with a plate of small fried fish asked if we wanted some, and I fell upon them voraciously in hopes of stabilizing my blood sugar enough to parse the menu. The fish could have been a bit hotter, but were nicely fried, exactly like an Italian fritto misto, with a sprinkling of fresh chiles.

Among the dishes we sampled were abalone mushroom dumplings -- earthy and pleasantly chewy, but we pressed the vinegar from the Shanghai dumplings into service as a dipping sauce. The Shanghai dumplings -- the ones with the soup inside -- were very gingery. Pan fried turnip cake with spicy x.o. sauce didn't excite me too much; we were happier with shark's fin dumpling, in which a beautifully green rice dough wrapper enclosed a filling of shrimp topped with a small piece of shark's fin and some red roe.

The hollow vegetable with fermented bean curd sauce was Chinese spinach with a really flavorful sauce which tasted like a combination of tahini, mayonaise and chilis, definitely a hit. The traditional bbq pork bao were light and fresh. One of my favorites was the panfried scallops and taro cake, which was a flat, square cake of peanuts and scallops held together with taro root and fried until crispy. Very nice flavor, but again, even better with a dab of the fermented bean paste sauce. For dessert, the green tea flavored dumplings didn't taste that much of green tea, but the black sesame paste filling kind of grew on me; and the egg custard tarts were flaky and eggy in the best possible way.

The verdict: I didn't find New Concept quite as delicate and imaginative as Sea Harbour, but it's certainly a cut above the rolling cart dim sum places. A certain tolerance for long waits and less than solicitous service is helpful. Although I had heard it was somewhat expensive, our huge lunch came to only $15 each. The dinner menu seems to be much higher, but with dishes like pan-fried prawns with toasted oatmeal and steamed shark's fin with cream, it might be worth a splurge.
New Concept Restaurant
700 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park
(626) 282-6800