Opal In The San Gabriel Sheraton--Less Than Meets The Eye

I have been hearing a lot of buzz about the new high end Cantonese restaurant in the San Gabriel Sheraton, Opal. Based on newspaper reviews, online reviews, and other brief passing internet references, it sounded like this could be the transcendent high end Cantonese restaurant that has been missing in Los Angeles. Unfortunately I didn’t know anyone who had actually eaten there and made critical comments, so I had to go there with a group so we could see for ourselves.

Before going any further I need to make one major caveat. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes require 24 hour advanced notice, and we were essentially walk-ins. Consequently we missed the $75 Peking duck, the $38 a bowl bird’s nest soup, and some other specialties. So it’s quite possible that we missed the dishes that may well distinguish Opal from every other Cantonese place in town.

That having been said, I have to say Opal was a bit of a letdown. No criticism of the decor or the service, which was top notch. But the food fell short, putting aside the price tag on some of the items Opening dish was double boiled chicken broth, which necessitated a $10 per bowl charge since they probably boil a whole chicken all day to get a bowl of soup. One reviewer thought this was a highlight dish based on its relatively scarcity on local menus. But it certainly wasn’t any better than the version you can get at Broth, the Taiwanese chicken essence restaurant in Walnut, and you’d expect a better tasting brew at a place like this.

Wildflower honey glazed kurobota pork sounds like something special, but it was just merely a pretty good version of char siu.

The second appetizer, beef shank marinated in Chinese wine, wasn’t even particularly good, a little dry and perhaps overcooked.

Moving onto the main dishes, perhaps the biggest internet favorite was the E-fu noodle with lobster. A nice dish, but certainly not better than Newport Seafood, 626 Lobster or Longo Seafood versions of the dish.

Also highly regarded by online reviewers was the seared Chilean sea bass. Again, a nice dish and very nicely presented, but not even at the level of Koi Palace’s honey glazed sea bass.

The surprise of the evening was the garlic chili chicken. A real winner with a fantastic sauce. If everything else were this good I’d be a happy camper.

Online reviews were also highly complimentary of the filet mignon steak with snap peas. Again, quite good but no better than a large number of restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

Last on the menu was the poached snow pea leaves with egg white and crab meat. Not my favorite preparation of this vegetable, though probably better than I’ve had elsewhere.

Some commentators went so far as to describe Opal as a world class eatery, comparable to what you would find in Asia. Again, maybe it is based on their premium dishes. But if it really were, you’d expect the more mundane dishes to be better than they were.

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Is there a banquet menu available at Opal, with perhaps more opulent dishes? Maybe that’s where they shine.

The inevitable comparison here will be with Bistro Na. Any thoughts?

Hi @chandavkl,

Thanks for taking one for the team.

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No sign of a banquet menu on their website. I clearly prefer Bistro Na’s.

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Just heard that you recently retired. Congratulations!

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Thanks. I actually missed the Eater story. Underlying SCMP article had some under/overstatements (I don’t actually dislike food, no longer concentrate on soy sauce rice, do sometimes go back to the same restaurant) but every article gets some things wrong.

Wait so eater didn’t attempt to reach out to you to ask some questions/get a quote? They just regurgitated facts from another article wholesale!?!?
One would think with all the time they spend lurking on this board they could easily reach out to you…

But congrats on the retirement hope it’s full of many good Chinese meals!

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Here’s our dinner from last Saturday. Sad to say, as beautiful and elegant the dining room is, the service was surprisingly mediocre. I kept thinking that their service level needs to be where Capital Seafood Beverly Hills is…

I wish we had seen @chandavkl’s report back on Opal before we went, but alas, we had gone before this FTC post was written.

Opened inside the newly built Sheraton Hotel in San Gabriel, Opal tries to set itself apart from most other Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley on a variety of fronts. First off is the decor, which is definitely better than most standard SGV restaurant decor (with generic drywall and maybe some framed pictures).

Opal bills itself as “sophisticated Cantonese cuisine in its purest form,” so we were excited and interested to see how much better this might be compared to SGV stalwarts like Sea Harbour.

The menu is a hardcover, sturdy, bound book, and every chair had an additional pillow cushion. Unfortunately that’s where the niceties ended.

They had 5 Teas to choose from, with some rather humorous English translations for the descriptions (but perhaps it’s true?). For example, for Pu Er Tea, the menu states “It soothes the liver and moistens the lungs.” :slight_smile: We chose:

Tie-Guan Yin Tea:

Our server poured the first cup (and never returned), and it looked and tasted clearly like it wasn’t steeped long enough.

Double Boiled Chicken Soup:

This was the best dish of the evening: A deep poultry flavor coming through, clear, light Chicken Broth, and the Chinese Herbs present here imparted a pleasant, delicate, fragrant backnote with each sip. (A good medicinal soup offering @Bookwich)

The terrible service started with this very first dish: After we finished our Soups, our bowls were never cleared away. They just sat at our table until the next dish arrived. And even then, the server who brought the next dish saw our empty Soup bowls and was about to walk away (doing nothing), until we explicitly asked them to please clear away our finished bowls.

Poached Seasonal Vegetables (Supreme Broth, Crab Meat):

This looked a bit messy and chaotic, but there might not be a lot they can do given the dish. The actual Pea Tendrils were tender, and cooked through, but it really didn’t taste any better than Poached Pea Tendrils we’ve had at other noteworthy SGV restaurants. The Crab Meat and Goji Berries were a nice touch, but overall flavor? It was about the same, really.

Live Spot Prawns - Boiled:

One of our favorite Hong Kong / Cantonese dishes, Opal was serving Live Spot Prawns, Boiled on the menu this evening. Presentation is nicer than usual, the use of some Flowers and Micro Herbs to try and set the dish apart (not sure if those Flowers are edible though).

The Spot Prawns were undeniably fresh, and properly cooked. Unfortunately the Soy Sauce-based Dipping Sauce that usually accompanies this dish was far worse than Sea Harbour. :cry: Just a very one note, generic Soy Sauce flavor that actually detracted from the Spot Prawns. Very disappointing.

Signature Peking Duck (Organic Duck from Grimaud Farms. Roasted and Air Dried in Our Special Duck Oven) (24 Hour Advance Order):

We clearly knew it was suspect ordering Peking Duck from a Cantonese restaurant, but given what the manager told our Chinese-speaking friends (who made the reservation for all of us), and what the menu stated prominently - they even claim to have a “Special Duck Oven” - Opal’s Peking Duck was apparently the star of the menu and a “must order.”

Taking a bite…

It was OK. The Peking Duck itself was lukewarm. The Duck Skin (the most prized part) was slightly crisped (respectable), but the interplay of the Duck Skin, Duck Meat (both lukewarm / cold) with a bit of the Hoisin Sauce, Cucumber and Green Onions imparted a rather average result. :frowning:

While it’s been a few years, it is not a hyperbole to say that our last visit to Duck House yielded a much better Peking Duck experience and taste than Opal (@chandavkl @PorkyBelly @strongoxman @beefnoguy and others). And at $75 (+ tax & tip) for this Peking Duck, it didn’t feel like it was any better (and rather worse) than Duck House’s version.

We ordered one other dish and it never came out (even after waiting for over 45 minutes and asking about it). In the end we cancelled it.

Osmanthus Jello:

Probably the best plated dish of the evening, this showed some of the plating potential for Opal (in trying to be elevated Chinese cuisine). The actual Osmanthus Jello was lightly sweet, chilled with little bursts of piquant from the Goji Berries. It was fine.

While the above meal wasn’t “horrible,” besides the Double Boiled Chicken Soup, the rest of the dishes were just on the good, but not great side of things. Ingredients tasted fresh, but actual flavor and execution were as @chandavkl noted, merely good, but not mind-blowing. Certainly not elevated above SGV’s best to justify its markup in prices.

But the most egregious flaw to Opal is in its Service. Opal ranked as the #1 worst service we experienced in 2018. It took me this long to write about it because of how horrendous it was. It’s even more standout in how bad it is because of what Opal tries to bill itself as (from the menu) “changing the landscape of the restaurant offerings in San Gabriel.”

After our server took our order and poured the 1st cup of Tea, she literally disappeared. Never to return even once. :expressionless: None of our dishes were ever cleared until the next dish arrived, if we had messy plates (e.g., shells from the Live Spot Prawns) after finishing up, it just sat in front of us, and no one came around to clear them out and give us new plates.

Our Hot Tea (Opal upsells you to their “Premium Teas”) were never refilled without us explicitly trying to flag down a server (not ours, because she disappeared and never came back). In one instance, we were out of Tie Guan Yin Tea and tried to get the attention of any server for about 5 - 6 minutes. It was laughable and sad. :frowning: (Our friend joked, Opal should’ve installed the Doorbells that are on every table at most Korean restaurants in K-Town, because at least someone would realize we needed some help.)

And it wasn’t just our table either. Here’s a picture of another table that finished eating, and their table filled with dirty plates, sat uncleaned for the entire time we were dining(!). As other diners finished up, we noticed not a single table was bussed, and by the time we left, there were like 4 - 5 tables filled with dirty plates and dishes, which made Opal seem like a joke of an effort to be “high class.” :roll_eyes: Pic:

opal_043

When one of our friends got up to use the restroom and put her napkin on the edge of the chair, it wasn’t balanced and accidentally fell on the floor, right in front of one of the main “walkways” between tables in the restaurant (i.e., very obvious in the main walk area). We saw 4 different servers walk right past it (and one walked on top of my friend’s cloth napkin, and no one picked it up or noticed it). :rage:

It’s one thing if we were dining in a casual SGV Chinese restaurant and we had issues like this. But when even when a basic hole-in-the-wall like Sam Woo BBQ has much better service (you better believe dirty dishes and tables are bussed within seconds of a table leaving, and they’ve swapped out plates for us, and refilled our Hot Tea Pot numerous times, sometimes without asking), you’ve got problems.

When we brought up that they forgot a dish of ours and that we never saw our server again, they offered no apologies and just kinda nodded, before bringing out the check (with no adjustment).

In the end, Opal Chinese Cuisine fails to deliver in redefining anything with Cantonese Cuisine in the San Gabriel Valley except its decor (which isn’t even as good as the visual stunner that is Bistro Na’s). The Double Boiled Chicken Soup was pretty tasty, but everything else ranged from OK to good, at best. Add in the horrendous service issues and unbussed tables and it was more uncomfortable eating here than most hole-in-the-walls in the SGV.

Opal Chinese Cuisine
(inside the Sheraton Hotel)
303 E. Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Tel: (626) 607-2018

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Thanks for the review! It’s definitely a problem for Chinese restaurants to get quality servers in the US. Heck, even a place as high end as Mott 32 in Las Vegas still have service problems because of the servers have they…

I’m not a tea expert but tea color reflects whether the tea is fermented or aged. Also, the good tea leafs don’t need steeping. You’re suppose to pour water with the right temp over the leafs and drain that that…then drink from the second pour which doesn’t need any steeping either.

Is it a chili soy sauce with a kick? Or just a plain one?

Hi @moonboy403,

Thanks. Yah it’s rather sad the state of service in higher end Chinese restaurants.

Tea: Thanks. Oh definitely some teas don’t need to steep that long. Our first cup tasted like… hot water with a tiny hint of flavor. :sweat_smile:

I don’t know what the Chinese name for it is, but it’s the same dipping sauce seen at Sea Harbour, Elite and various Hong Kong Cantonese restaurants when you order Boiled Live Shrimp (lightly sweeter and more savory than just plain ol’ Soy Sauce). Thanks.

There’s a lack of talented cooks as well in the states. SAD!

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Perhaps Opal is aiming to achieve a more (ahem) authentic style of mainland China service?

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Opal is still open for random diners? The Times story had indicated they were only doing group events.

The problem with a Cantonese high end restaurant like this: if they can’t even get some of the basics down, why would their high end items be even better?

A master Cantonese chef should at the very least have really competent sous chefs, line cooks. The kitchen needs to at least nail down master stock (similar to dashi in Japanese cuisine) which is the basis for many other items. If they can’t do simple wok stir fry, amongst a myriad of other techniques, then there is really no reason to do such an expanded menu and trying to jazz up mediocrity. Why would I spend additional hard earned money to have them do braised abalone, sea cucumber, swallow nest?

There are a few Cantonese taste tester dishes, if they flop of any of these, then there’s no hope for anything higher end:

  • steamed egg custard (savory) very simple but it’s all about technique and control

  • steamed pork patty (mouthfeel, technique of how they chop up the pork and how to give it more texture, knifework of the additional ingredients and the balance, plus the seasoned soy sauce to go on top

  • some stir fry dish. Scrambled egg and shrimp, sweet & sour pork (we can forget about finding a good version of this for the most part), oyster sauce beef with mushrooms

  • braise dish or claypot. Clear broth beef brisket, or the fermented paste beef brisket and tendon stew

  • superior broth pea sprouts (you get a chance to taste the broth), or the superior broth could be a fish broth.

  • fried rice dish. Egg white dried scallop fried rice is simple enough. Or soy sauce supreme fried noodles but that’s more of a wok hay challenge.

  • if they have a roasties department, the go to is to see how they do their in house version of char siu / BBQ pork. Otherwise just go for a classic rendition of Cantonese chicken (so many styles to choose from) and see how they do it.

Appalling and very sad…so sorry for our two C’s who went!

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@Chowseeker1999 said this is a much-delayed write-up from 2018.

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Don’t you think what you wrote is true of all cuisines?