Senior Copy Editor
Dim sum restaurants evoke an assortment of familiar and warm memories for me: elderly Chinese women pushing metal carts, the incessant chatter of loud families, and steamed goodies stacked high on my plate by well-meaning family members. It’s natural that my memory of dim sum is closely associated with the warm environment; eating dim sum is a social and communal experience, marked by the loving act of sharing food.
At Asie, that sense of intimacy and comfort is sorely lacking. Located at 511 State St., the dim sum and hot pot restaurant is the newest addition to Santa Barbara’s growing Asian food scene. Perhaps true to the upscale vibe of downtown Santa Barbara, Asie feels like a sanitized version of the familiar dim sum restaurant: there are no carts, light jazz music plays softly in the background, and wooden steamers are served on top of ceramic plates.
Although half of the joy of dim sum is the warm and hectic environment, the heart of the experience lies in the opportunity to eat a variety of affordable, delicious dishes. Unfortunately, Asie’s food is nothing to write home about in terms of price or taste.
While the menu has noticeably fewer options than the average dim sum restaurant, Asie does offer nearly all of the most popular food items. For this review, I ordered some of the most ubiquitous dim sum dishes: xiao long bao, shrimp har gow, pork shu mai, char siu bao, and shrimp cheung fun. Each dish ranged from $4.58 to $5.98 for 2-4 pieces, all of which were noticeably smaller than typical dim sum sizes.
The xiao long bao, served as four dumplings at the steep price of $5.58, was a mixed experience. The dumplings were piping hot and packed a lot of flavor, but were also incredibly inconsistent in terms of soup quantity. Some pieces were bursting with soup while others were strangely almost dry. Unfortunately, all were slightly too doughy at the top-folded portion of the dumpling, which drew attention away from the flavor of the meat.
The shrimp har gow and pork shu mai, both served as three dumplings for $4.58, were both disappointing. The shrimp har gow featured a hard skin that was difficult to chew and meat that was just average in taste. In contrast, the pork shu mai had a perfectly tender exterior and bland-tasting meat. Both dishes were served lukewarm, which was a let-down considering the fact that my table was only one of two occupied tables in the restaurant.
The char siu bao and shrimp cheung fun were definitely the strongest dishes of the night. Served as two buns for $4.98, the char siu bao had a perfectly fluffy and warm exterior with a delicious and gooey barbequed pork interior. The only con with these buns were that they were extremely small compared to typical char siu bao. The shrimp cheung fun, served as four small rolls for $5.98, featured a tender skin that was unfortunately overshadowed by average-tasting shrimp.
While nothing was absolutely horrible at Asie, nothing was particularly strong or amazing either. The best words to describe my experience at this restaurant would be average and disappointing; even the tastier dishes had noticeable flaws.
Although Asie is the only dim sum restaurant in the Santa Barbara area, it serves lackluster food at an incredibly steep price — serving sizes were significantly smaller than the average dim sum restaurant while also being $1-2 more expensive. This restaurant might hit the spot if you’re really craving dim sum, but otherwise, you’re better off saving your money for an L.A. food trip.