Gung Hay Fat Choy! That isn’t a dish, but rather Cantonese for Happy New Year. By now you probably know this is the Year of the Dragon and are planning to eat Chinese before too long. If that’s the case, East Ocean Dim Sum & Seafood Restaurant on Eastern Avenue south of Interstate 215 is a compelling option.
East Ocean is that area’s first full-fledged dim sum parlor, complete with rolling carts, women hawking sweet and savory pastry in animated Cantonese, and pots of steaming Chinese tea.
If you’re a novice, the default is jasmine, the most insipid tea. Instead, surprise your server by asking for bo lei, red tea, or better yet, gok bo, a mix of red and flowery chrysanthemum teas. It’s for connoisseurs only, an exquisite combination of subtle flavors, but it is no more expensive; a pot is usually $2 or $3, depending on the restaurant.
Dim sum is available 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Sundays from 10 a.m.) There is an astonishing variety of choices, from ha gow, the more common shrimp dumpling, to the lesser known lo mai gai, Chinese rice tamales served in steamed lotus leaves.
Evenings, East Ocean, a huge space with giant plasma-screen TVs overhead and a boxy, well-lit cafeteria-style atmosphere, morphs into a serious a la carte restaurant.
Good luck navigating the encyclopedic menu, more than 200 dishes strong. But allow me to simplify things by eliminating four off at the bat—the ones featuring shark’s fin. Because it involves the barbaric killing of sharks, such dishes were banned in California, effective Jan. 1. This may not happen in Nevada, however, because the casinos need high-rolling customers from China, where shark’s fin is still a delicacy.
What I do like for dinner here are the cold dishes such as sliced pork hock or wine-marinated beef flank, both served thinly sliced. Baby cucumber in garlic sauce is a nice way to achieve balance. Spicy pig’s ear, crunchy and gelatinous, is nose-to-tail eating par excellence.
Next, move on to a soup such as spicy clam wine soup, or a soothing minced chicken with sweet corn. Live seafood is available at market price and sold by weight.
Invariably, fresh fish are steamed. We opted for red cod with black-bean sauce. The flesh was moist, tender and sweet, but my guests looked a tad uncomfortable pulling it from the bone.
We also had our share of stir-fry. Crispy fried chicken is something that any kid will love. Ditto for stir-fried green beans, perfectly tender, as well, and laced with shards of delicate preserved radish for a salty bite.
Another family favorite is minced beef, chicken or shrimp in lettuce cups, which happens to be a New Year’s dish. Use the lettuce cup like a taco shell, and scoop up the goodies. Yes, there is Peking duck, served with feathery light crepes, scallions and the de rigueur plum sauce. At $35 for a whole duck, it isn’t inexpensive, and the dish will easily feed four.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the menu. There are hot pots galore, rice dishes, a huge menu of vegetarian options. But the owner of East Ocean—John Zee, a Chinese-American who has had restaurants in New York and Florida; this is his first Las Vegas restaurant—has not forgotten where he is: Diehard aficionados of Chinese-American cuisine can have their egg foo young and eat it, too.
Some things, in my opinion, are better left on the ash heap of history.