ABC Seafood is about as close to Hong Kong as you can get. I'm not talking about the seafood, which is fine, but about the dim sum that draws crowds of Chinese to this downtown restaurant.
At the popular dim sum places in Hong Kong, tables fill rapidly as soon as the doors open, which is early in the morning. By lunch, seats are in such demand that you eat with an audience. Rather than waiting their turn in an anteroom, hungry standees cluster about the diners, hoping each bite will be their last.
It's a disorderly system that ABC regulates by handing out numbers, just like you get at the meat counter or candy store. The wait is worth it. Once seated, you are treated to a parade of rolling carts laden with wonderful Chinese dumplings, meats and sweets. The assortment isn't as great as in Hong Kong, where dim sum is a way of life, but it is considerable.
Action Starts Early
At ABC, the action starts at 8 a.m. and continues until about 2:30 in the afternoon. At that hour, there is not much left. Dropping in late for dessert one day, we got the last plate of coconut snowballs, my name for dumplings made of white sticky rice dough filled with coconut, chopped peanuts and sesame seeds. The custard tarts were long gone, but a few bowls of soft orange tapioca pudding were still on hand along with one plate of coconut tarts and one dish of black sesame rolls.
We upset portion control by demanding the last lone water chestnut cake, even though an order should consist of three. These are shimmery, sweet cakes of translucent dough crunchy with bits of water chestnut. The attendant sautees them on the little griddle that is part of what I call the fry cart, producing a thin wisp of crust. The soft, warm, watery-tasting cake with that contrasting brown crispness is addictive, odd as it may sound.
The fry cart produces more than sweets. We also had fried dumplings filled with meat and seafood and sprinkled with ginger shreds in vinegar. Green pepper halves stuffed with fish paste were sauteed and presented in a brown sauce. The same paste also came in slices of bitter melon, topped with black bean sauce.
The char shiu bao-- soft steamed dumplings filled with barbecued pork--are excellent here, as are the baked pork-filled buns with golden brown, sticky tops. Look also for long, slim, sesame-sprinkled glazed rolls. The dough is light and lovely, and the rolls contain a bit of sweet egg yolk paste. More exotic are fat bundles of chicken and Chinese sausage encased in glutinous rice and wrapped in leaves. These are large enough to provide a taste for three or four.
Plates of barbecued pork and duck and a midday noodle menu provide hearty lunches. The regular menu of seafood and other dishes stays in effect until 10 p.m.
Those not accustomed to dim sum may experience some surprises. What looked like noodles turned out to be a sort of salad composed of cuttlefish, cucumber and carrot topped with duck shreds and sesame seeds. That was a minor surprise compared to the experience of the man who thought he was getting chicken wings only to find they were chicken feet.
Located one block east of Broadway in Chinatown, ABC Seafood has taken over the site once occupied by the Limehouse. A nice time to go is first thing in the morning, when old men gather with their Chinese newspapers and families fill the big tables, chattering and eating uproariously. Of course, there is a lot to be happy about. Breakfasting on dim sum is unquestionably more fun than going to work.
ABC Seafood Restaurant, 708 New High St . , Los Angeles, (213) 680-2887. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dim sum served from 8:30 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. No reservations for lunch. Reservations for 10 or more for dinner. Accepts Visa and MasterCard. Parking lot in back. Dim sum for two costs $10 or less.