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[whitespace] Ocean Harbor
Christopher Gardner

Dim Sum Kind of Wonderful: Owners Daisy and Kansen Chu keep up high standards at Ocean Harbor.

Ocean Harbor offers South Bay shelter to lovers of authentic, top-end Chinese food

By Andrew X. Pham

THEY SAY San Francisco's Chinatown has good Chinese food. Well, we all know that's for the tourists. Not only are Silicon Valley's leading Chinese restaurants light-years ahead of San Francisco's in the service department, but they have, over the last decade, become masters at creating "wok fragrant" dishes.

Even an old celebrity like Ocean Harbor, which opened way back in 1987 to much fanfare, has retrained its staff to provide prompt, courteous service and tuned its kitchen to produce authentic dishes. Although for the sake of form the establishment keeps sweet and sour pork, hot and sour soup, kung pao chicken and the like on the menu, savvy diners steer clear of these and spring for the house seafood specialties and first-rate vegetable and bean curd dishes. This is a smart move, because the restaurant is an ideal compromise, offering top-end dishes at prices barely above what one would expect at a neighborhood diner.

With every restaurant, both Western and Eastern, getting into the pot sticker act, the stakes have gone up for this peasant snack. Consequently, we found Ocean Harbor's variety ($5 for half a dozen) merely average. The dumpling purse was too thick, and its contents were sparse. A better starter, minced chicken cups ($10), provided finger fun with sheets of iceberg lettuce serving as a leafy semblance of mushu pancakes. The lettuce had been doused with hot water, making it pliant enough to be basted with plum sauce and rolled around chicken and watercress sautéed with black bean sauce. These tasty Chinese burritos were particularly good with Tsing Tao beer ($2.50).

Our seafood winter melon soup was silky and smooth, studded with melon pulp and diced shrimp. It lacked the effervescent fragrance of a soup cooked inside a melon, but at $6.50 for our party of four, we could hardly complain.

Because we were in a celebratory mood, we had Peking duck ($11, half duck). The duck had been slow-roasted all day, much of its fat dripped away. There was only dark, faintly gamy meat, a thin, buttery layer of fat and crisp, honey-brown skin, all cut into perfect squares and presented with a bamboo steamer of white buns. We wedged these with pieces of duck with the crunchy skin inside and topped the ensemble with a few sprigs of spring onion. Delicious. The skin was lovely but could have used a little more crunchiness.

A superlative dish, fresh scallops steamed with soft bean curd ($8) was our favorite. The tofu melted in the mouth while the fresh scallops had a precise resilient tenderness that made the pairing quite fetching, particularly when chaperoned by a light soy sauce. They also went well with baby bok choy ($6.50). Each green cluster was fresh and free of blemishes. We declined the suggested oyster sauce and opted for a simple garlic braising.

Our lobster with e-mein ($16.95) was served in a glass terrine, enough for four. A whole, unshelled lobster was chopped into inch-long sections, panned with a light ginger sauce and poured over the blanched noodles. Our major misgiving was that the lobster was difficult to eat, even when we chucked the chopsticks and pried with our fingers. On the other hand, the lively e-mein would have been a great foundation for any noodle dish.

The house special beef ($7.50) had the slightly chewy signature of meat tenderized with baking soda. Sautéed with a semisweet sauce and garnished with crushed peanuts and cilantro, the dish made for a good alternate to Mongolian or Szechuan beef.

Who knows? Some day not too far from now, San Francisco tour companies might bus clients to the South Bay for authentic Chinese food.


Ocean Harbor
Cuisine: Chinese, daily dim sum lunch
Ambiance: Casual
Menu: $5-$18, specialties $20-$28
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11am-2:30pm and 5-9:30pm; Sat.-Sun. 10am-9:30pm
Address: 370 S. Winchester Blvd., Town & Country Center, San Jose
Phone: 408/243-3366
Extras: Large vegetarian menu

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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