Jasmine Seafood Restaurant

jasmine_gaochoyben4609 Convoy St., yelp reviews

The Jasmine is San Diego’s largest Chinese restaurant, serving old-school Cantonese dishes at night and dim sum every day for lunch.  Despite its warehouse size, the chaotic dim sum experience actually overflows the restaurant every Saturday and Sunday, which is not actually a bad thing: more people means more variety and more freshness.

Now, dear reader, let me caution you that it is patently ridiculous for me to write an objective review of the Jasmine.  I got married here fifteen years ago, I’ve brought countless out-of-town guests here for dinner, and I’m here frantically signaling to my favorite dim sum carts nearly every Saturday.  The Jasmine was by no means my first dim sum (I was born next door to a small beloved dim sum storefront in Toronto – long live the Yung Sing Pastry Shop!), but there are items on the menu here that my wife, son, and I have imprinted on.  We’re like little ducklings following around the turnip cake, the hom sui gok, the wonderfully squishy cheong fun.  The cart ladies have watched my son grow up and helped teach him how to use chopsticks.

These things I can objectively say.  The food at the Jasmine is good, especially the dim sum, which comes to your table hot and fresh more often than at any other restaurant in town, probably because nobody else can compete on sheer volume.  At peak hour, it can be anarchic: embrace it, people!  If you demand smiling service and non-oily low-cal options, go to Applebee’s for f-sakes.  But I can pass on some tips to help navigate the mayhem.

On a weekday, come at 12:30pm for optimum variety and freshness.  On week-ends, you want to time it so you get there before the line starts forming, but late enough that the kitchen is fully up and functioning: 11:15am on Saturday, 11am on Sunday.  There are roughly four tiers of employees walking the floor.  The cart ladies stick to their carts; you can flag them over or try to make eye contact with your favorites, but don’t ask them to bring you something not on their carts – it won’t work out.  The clean-up guys in white shirts can bring you water, forks, more tea, drinks, and will clear your table, but they also are not the ones to ask for specific items, they’ll probably just get confused.  The young girls in silk dresses just seat people or take checks – don’t pester them either.  If there’s something special you’re not seeing on the carts, then you want one of the men and women in the tux jackets; they’re more like regular waiters who will negotiate the kitchen for you in search of that shrimpy eggplant or potsticker you’re missing.  And the turnip and taro cake cart – bless it’s delicious little patties! – doesn’t move very much, so you can go to it or ask a be-tux-ed waiter to do so on your behalf.  And get the plum dip to go with.

Not sure what kind of meat or sauce is in something?  Get over yourself!  Just eat it.  90% of the time, it’s shrimp and pork with a wrapper of some rice product.  All kosher, of course.  And if you don’t trust your eyeballs, I’m happy to list the family favorites:

Top of the list is the herb-y pan-fried potsticker pictured above, it’s called something like gao choy bein.  The cheong fun – shrimp wrapped in rice noodles – is a classic.  Also, the har gow, eggplant with shrimp, hom sui gok (a deep-fried porky item that looks like a football), baked bao with BBQ pork, turnip cakes, wonton soup, sticky rice in lotus leaf, egg custard bun, and egg tart are all excellent.

And while I’m ranting: if you come to my town and then go on about how this or that is way better in LA or San Francisco, you can kiss my grits.  True, I’ve had tastier or more clever versions here or there of one or two items from the dim sum menu, but nobody does it, across the board, significantly better than the Jasmine.  On the West Coast.

Hong Kong, I can’t speak for.

Dinner here at the Jasmine has gotten a bit expensive over the years, and to be honest I think there are now more exciting options elsewhere on Convoy.  But the food is still great.  More favorites are: sauteed pea pod leaves, fish in black bean sauce, house special pepper steak, peking duck, chicken and eggplant in clay pot, and the infamous sweet honey walnut shrimp, which I think is way over the top but my son loves it.

What else to say?  It’s been a long happy affair with the Jasmine, and I’m still dewy-eyed with puppy love.  See you next Saturday, ma cherie.

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