Sentosa and the Sad State of Seattle Dim Sum

As I write, an email sits in my inbox, inviting me out for dim sum on Sunday. There’s just one problem: I don’t do Seattle dim sum.

I confess that I’ve been one of those obnoxious people on Chowhound who replies to endless inquiries like the current “Where has the great dim sum gone?” with advice to drive two hours north to Richmond. (Yes, Richmond. Vancouver’s got some decent dim sum, but it’s much better in Richmond.) My apologies. I’m just trying to save everyone time, money, and a bad experience.

On very rare occasion, for the sake of being social, I cave on my dim sum pledge. A few weeks ago, for example, I joined friends for dim sum at Sentosa in Kirkland. I know, I know…plenty of red flags a-waving. Kirkland’s a bad choice for ethnic food (that said, my favorite Chinese food in the area is on the Eastside), and Sentosa is an island in Singapore, not China. But Sentosa’s website touted “the most authentic Chinese food” managed by a former chef at Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I quickly learned that the passive voice in the website’s claim “It’s been said that we have the best dim sum around!” must belong to naïve Kirklanders—or more likely the restaurant workers themselves. I later learned that, just as I was preparing to write my review, the restaurant had closed. So why continue writing? Because Sentosa’s closing offers an opportunity to comment on the sad state of Seattle-area dim sum.

Sentosa, like many Chinese restaurants, scared me from the start. First of all, there was no sign of chicken feet, which symbolizes what I love about dim sum: tastes and textures from a far-away land. Instead, they offered honey-walnut shrimp, which is far from authentic. We rolled the dice on a few baskets, all of which were disappointing. The rice noodle rolls were gummy and bland, the fried taro was disturbingly tinny-tasting, and the shumai was soggy and cold. For me, as for many, the true test of dim sum quality is the har gow (shrimp dumplings). I’ve sampled them almost everywhere locally, including Imperial Garden, Jade Garden, Noble Court, and House of Hong. The wrappers are often mushy, and the shrimp is typically some kind of clump of shrimp pieces with little or no taste. They can’t compete with the har gow of my favorite Richmond dim sum places, like Shiang Garden. As you can read and see here, these delicious dumplings contain “whole shrimp, plump and juicy, sweet and briny, smooth and yet slippery, and far from oily.” Indeed, they “offer a crisp bite, a snap of freshness that tastes, well, almost alive.”

To Sentosa, no longer alive, we say rest in peace. And when people ask where the great dim sum has gone, I contend it never arrived. It’s you that needs to go…to Richmond. Your non-authentic fortune cookie would tell you to trust me on this.

Cross-posted on

Imperial Garden Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sentosa Asian Cuisine and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Jade Garden on Urbanspoon

Noble Court Restaurant on Urbanspoon

House of Hong Restaurant on Urbanspoon



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