consumed on 9/11/05

After reading Viv’s write up and then Laura’s review about Monsoon’s new dim sum menu, I was excited to check it out. It’s been years since I last ate at Monsoon, but I can still vividly recall their incredible wok-fried Dungeness crab in spicy, garlicky, black bean sauce. I’m not sure why Monsoon fell off my radar—especially because it’s only a few blocks away, but it was high time for a reunion.

Monsoon’s website said they opened at 9am for breakfast service, so I arranged to meet some friends there at 9:30am. Unfortunately, Monsoon doesn’t actually open until 10am. We sat across the street at Fuel to wait. It felt a little bit like stalking.

At 10am we rushed back across the street to claim a table front and center. I had forgotten how cute the place is—very stark and modern, but in a comfortable way. I was feeling a little groggy from the night before, so we ordered a round of green apple mimosas. They appeared to be “fresh squeezed” and the green apple was sour and bright (i.e. not artificially flavored). Something in the apple made the champagne foam up in a strange way, but they were delicious.

The menu had a short but sweet selection of dim sum items ($4 per basket) along with a few more traditional breakfast plates. We were here for the dim sum and ordered practically one of every item on the menu:

  • Vegetable potstickers – A traditional pot sticker, perfectly steamed and sautéed, although not very interesting unless dipped in its salty, tangy sauce.
  • Steamed bbq pork buns (hum bow) – These looked beautiful, but tasted off. I prefer the sweet and savory hoisin-based “bbq” filling, but this filling tasted bean-based and was dry and chalky.
  • Shrimp dumplings – Perfectly formed dumplings with translucent skin. The shrimp filling was sweet and fresh, but the skins were undercooked or too thick. The result was terribly sticky and chewy dumplings.
  • Pork shui mai with dried shiitake mushrooms – There were very pretty and topped with some sort of roe, but they tasted somewhat bland and non-descript.
  • Crispy shrimp Chinese chive wontons – Large, round patties of minced shrimp and chives, wrapped in a rice dough and fried until crisp and lightly browned (nothing like Chinese wontons). These were savory and juicy; by far my favorite item we tried.

We also ordered one breakfast from the non-dim-sum menu: Duck Eggs with Shallot and Chanterelles ($11). In theory, this sounds amazing. In practice, it was somewhat bland. The duck eggs were creamy and fluffy, but I wanted them to taste more exotic. I also wanted more Chanterelles in the eggs.

Overall, the breakfast left me wanting for a trip to Sun Ya. I missed the noisy, crowded room with the carts of steaming goodies rattling by. I missed the sometimes fatty and sometimes grisly dim sum. More than anything, I missed the flavor. Monsoon dim sum seemed a bit toned down and flattened for the American palate, but it would be a great place for dim sum beginners… or the culinarily squeamish.

Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t go back. I really do want to try the pan fried daikon cakes (which looked amazing), the duck congee and the Vietnamese soups (pho). Also, for dessert we happened to have one of the best (coconut) flans I’ve ever tasted. That alone would be worth a trip back. Plus Chef Eric Banh is very, very sweet. And smokin’ hot.

Actually, what I’d really like is to return for dinner; this seems to be where Monsoon excels.

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