Walk through the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, or New York or a host of other major cities and you will be greeted with unfamiliar but pleasant smells of food from faraway places. You’ll see whole ducks hanging in the windows of restaurants curing in old-world style. The people in every Chinatown I’ve visited have been so pleasant and willing to explain their food and culture. We are fortunate to have their contribution to our melting pot here in the U.S.
When you walk into Ha Long Bay (translation – Descending Dragon Bay) located on 34th St. North in St. Petersburg, you get the same sense of hospitality and graciousness I’ve experienced in other, larger cities. Ha Long Bay is undoubtedly named after the Quang Ninh Province in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by beautiful limestone karsts. It makes sense they would have a Vietnamese menu along with their Chinese dim sum. They now also offer sushi.
For two blocks along 34th St. North, the Asian culture dominates. There is an Asian market and several other retail establishments in the same theme. At the end of that row of shops sits Ha Long Bay. Not long ago, they upgraded their signage and banners on the outside of the restaurant. On all my visits there, they had an almost full house. That says a lot during these tough times for restaurants.
When you are seated (promptly on every occasion I visited) you are given three menu options and you can mix and match between all of them. The Vietnamese menu, the dim sum menu and the sushi menu are all rather lengthy. I wondered if they could really pull this off. After all, kitchens are only so big and you can only fit a certain number of people in there. They are trying to accomplish a lot and appeal to the greatest number of diners. I get that and I think it’s smart, in theory. Are they able to do it well? I set out to find the answer to that.
First, they bring you a basket of what tasted like shrimp toast. It reminded me of a Darden concept taken over from General Mills in Orlando called China Coast. These were the real deal and it was nice to know a place to get them in St. Pete.
The dim sum was the biggest attraction for me, because it is so hard to find in this area. If you like shrimp, think about a blend of shrimp dipped in a light batter and covered in a thinly shredded nest of some sort of noodle or wonton skin and then deep-fried in very hot oil to decadent perfection. Those were the Shrimp Balls ($3.50).
The pork dumpling is such a classic dim sum dish, I had to have it. In every cuisine, there’s a benchmark dish you measure expertise by. In dim sum, I think it is the pork dumpling ($2.99). Their dumplings were hot and steamy, with soft dough folded over seasoned pork in the classic way. It was a happy moment both for my palate and my wallet.
The Fried Bean Curd Skin Roll ($3.25) sounded a little different, but it wasn’t nearly as odd as one would think. It was similar to a crispy egg roll, but a little more delicate and it was filled with shrimp. The shrimp was unexpected (although welcomed). I do think they should note it has shellfish in it though, for people who have a sensitivity to it. Just a thought.
Who can go wrong with spare ribs ($2.99) braised for hours until they are falling-off-the-bone, right? Emeril is correct. Pork fat does indeed rule. I wish they would serve these ribs whole though, because when they cut them into small pieces there is a risk of getting bone fragments and I stopped eating the dish when one ended up in my mouth. Other than that, the tender ribs bathed in their self-made sauce were very good and had a little touch of heat from thinly-sliced green chili.
The Sesame Chicken with Broccoli ($9.95) off the Chinese menu was a generous portion enough for two people and not overly sweet. It comes with steamed rice, of course. I’ve had many broccoli dishes on Chinese menus, but, in this case, the broccoli was cooked just to my liking. It wasn’t soggy from overcooking and wasn’t too crisp. It was like Goldilocks all over again.
Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
To venture into the sushi menu a bit, I ordered a Mexican Roll ($7.00). Yes, it’s not really considered sushi. It’s battered and fried shrimp rolled up into a sushi roll, in case you haven’t had one. This one was topped with a spicy mayo. If you are in a fried and crunchy kind of mood, this will satisfy your craving without going totally overboard.
Feeling like some lobster? This is one of the only places I can remember around here that serve fresh lobster out of the tank in their dining room, as well as fish. I saw some Lobster with Ginger and Green Onions ($MP) from the Vietnamese menu go by my table and just the smell was intoxicating. I’ll certainly be back, and I plan to have that next time.
If you want something a little different, off-the-beaten-path and you are an adventurous eater, you could have a lot of fun with their menu choices. This is definitely a pick for an alternative to a pricey Sunday brunch.
Ha Long Bay is located at 5944 34th St. North in St. Petersburg. They are open seven days a week and serve dim sum all day, every day. (727) 522-9988