Ocean Star in Monterey Park has been in service since 1982. They're a classic dim sum joint in every sense of the word: rolling carts, Cantonese servers, dim sum operation during the day and extraordinary seafood at night.
The restaurant is one of the largest of its kind in Los Angeles, and has an impressive capacity that can hold a crowd of almost a thousand. It was first opened by a Hong Kong native and, since then, has been divided among a team of five different shareholders.
Mr. Lin, who has been the head dim sum chef at Ocean Star for about four years, manages a team of 12 people who work solely on the dim sum. “I started off in Guangdong and then when I moved to the States, a chef from Hong Kong taught me how to make these dishes,” Lin says.
A day at the kitchen starts at 6 a.m., three hours before the restaurant opens its doors. Dozens of giant, tin steamers are stacked up on top of each other on the stoves and hundreds more are in the freezer, where they're stuffed from floor to ceiling on shelves.
At one station, a worker is chopping the toenails off of chicken feet. Another chef is in charge of making the shrimp and beef rice rolls. He preps the rolls entirely over the burning hot steamer with his bare hands, but the heat doesn't seem to faze him. He pours a white batter over a cloth, quickly puts the shrimp on the roll and lets the mixture steam before pulling it out and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. Another worker is defrosting the shu mai while others are prepping the batter for the turnip cakes.
Mr. Lin and a team of five are stuffing dumplings. They have hundreds of them laid out in front of them already. “These are for tomorrow,” Lin explains. The team wraps a couple thousand individual dim sum each day.
Though there are a couple of innovative plates, like their snow bun stuffed with sweet taro paste, Ocean Star's menu stays with the basics. Their most popular items: shrimp rolls, shu mai, chicken and beef buns and char siu bao. It's also dirt cheap: the starting price per plate on weekdays is $1.98 and it goes up to $2.38 on weekends.
“We stick with what the customers like and keep coming back to,” Lin says. So far, it's been working.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.