Dim Sum has always seems to be a crowd favorite, so we were stoked to get the opportunity to visit Chinatown’s Ocean Harbor restaurant on a recent Saturday afternoon. Escorted by my sister Christina and her mom Joanne, we were treated to an insider’s tour of what is a traditional weekend treat for many Philadelphia-area families, Asian or otherwise. And we are all for tradition.
As we entered the restaurant, it was clear from the start that we were going to get more than a meal, but an entire experience. Confronted by throngs of people, a cacophony of sounds and all sorts of delicious aromas, I was struck by the dramatic difference from the relative calm of the Race Street sidewalk just a few feet away. Apparently weekends are busy and crowded; Joanne mentioned that many Asian families from the region come into town on weekends to shop for groceries and have lunch. So maybe 1pm on a Saturday may not have been the best choice to avoid crowds, but it was great for many other reasons.
After a brief wait, our hostess disappeared into the busy dining room asking us to follow her. Frankly, we’ve had Dim Sum several times, but having a couple “culinary tour guides” to show us the ropes made it a lot more fun. As we made our way to our table, I experienced my first ever Dim Sum Cart traffic jam – nobody yelling, just dispensing tins, plates and bamboo steamers full of tasty treats. Thankfully we arrived at our table without incident.
As soon as our butts hit the seats, Chris and Joanne had some of their favorite items on the table. After a few simple questions, like “What is this?” we quickly realized that trying to understand what we were eating would be an uphill battle. So we put the FoodGuy inquisition into neutral and allowed the rest of the meal to become a pleasant blur; tasty items coming at a fast and furious pace. So I’m not going to give you a blow by blow description. Thankfully we took plenty of photos
All of the items we sampled were hot and fresh, so generally it’s pretty hard for any Dim Sum virgin or veteran to go wrong. However, after getting some advice from Chris and Joanne, here are a couple suggestions:
1. Go when it’s busy – Constant stream of fresh food
2. Go to a larger restaurant – Fresher items, more variety
3. Go with a group of friends – Try many items
4. Start slowly – Figure out what you like
5. Dive in – Don’t get overwhelmed, just do it
Concluding our meal, it came time to pay the check; the billing process for our meal was interesting in itself. Once seated, we were given a blank check that resembled a score card. As the various items were dropped off, our server would ask for the check and select a box indicating “Small, Medium, Large” or “Special.” Finally, we had the bill summed and we paid the cashier. Our meal was about $15pp – a deal.
We really enjoyed Dim Sum at Ocean Harbor. Sure, the food was great but it was the experience that really made it special… I’ll admit that if you don’t have the luxury of a culinary guide, the prospect of immersing yourself into an unfamiliar environment may be daunting, but give it a shot you won’t be disappointed!
Ocean Harbor Restaurant
1023 Race St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
P.S. – If you go to Chinatown for Dim Sum during the weekend, the more adventurous should take some time to do some grocery shopping in one of the many produce shops and sidewalk stands. It’s an experience in itself
Also, here’s a handy Guide to Dim Sum if you’d like some more information