The parapets of New Capital Seafood pierce the haze over San Gabriel, visible for a good distance along Valley Boulevard and Del Mar Avenue. The 11.5 acre shopping bazaar in which it sits may be anchored by 99 Ranch and Focus Department Store, but this is New Capital's court, and climbing to the 4th floor banquet hall feels like seeking an audience with royalty. The musty glass elevators pant skyward in fits and starts, crowded with fellow supplicants. When the doors open on the antechamber you must shoulder past the throng and claim a number, which will be barked back at you via microphone. Eventually you are passed like human chattel from one headset-equipped steward to the next and ultimately into the sprawling dining room, where your meal--and your audience--awaits.
New Capital's dialed in the cost-to-quality equation. Their $1.99 dim sum--that's $1.99 for everything on the menu--is robust and fun, not virtuoso. The flat-rate pricing enables reflexive, eat-with-your-eyes ordering. A group of four can fatten up nicely for about 10 bucks each, and your table will be littered with a narcotizing display of steam baskets whose contents you will be too sedated to finish. Items that circulate quickly or are cooked on the fly are easy pickings. Try the zha cheung feng, wide rice noodle rolled like yoga pants in a workout bag and scooped hot off the fry cart with scallion and sesame and a ruddy blob of hoisin. Even something as rudimentary as gai lan, Chinese broccoli, arrives in fresh emerald mounds, stalks crunchy leaves tender, polished with sweet soy and oil, because it's hustled across the room on a hand-tray by a waiter desperate to attract attention from eaters addled by meat.
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Conventional cart fare like shrimp dumpling har gow, cha siu bao and chicken feet can be disappointing, or absent, in a food hall this large--there's a reason why other diners follow the bao trolleys around the room like seagulls behind a fishing charter. Fortified by desire and too many cups of tea, you might find yourself doing likewise, clutching your ticket and marching across the room to claim what's yours before its spirit fades. This is the only right way to eat pork spare rib with pumpkin and black bean, when each knob of flesh is still cocooned in seasoned stock and starch. Or a bowl overtopped with honeycomb tripe and daikon, everything braised the color of pottery tile. Chilied tripe is not meant to be consumed cold. Dim sum on a weekend afternoon is a gladiatorial affair, and shameless cart-ambush guarantees you eat hot.
There are less tangible benefits to a meal at New Capital Seafood than a full stomach. The dining room is bisected by a sunny atrium and banks of windows line the north-facing wall, helping ameliorate the sensation that you're lunching in a mezzanine ballroom at the Holiday Inn. But try not to daydream. Enjoy your dessert--the warm silken tofu, tasting of nothing but pure green soybean and a drizzle of sweetened ginger syrup, is recommended over the memory foam-like sponge cake--and pay the tab. The moment you stand up, a squad of waiters will erase all evidence of your meal and a new set of petitioners will be ushered in to replace you.
New Capital Seafood: 140 W. Valley Boulevard 4th Floor, San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 288-1899.