Restaurant: Top Island Seafood
Location: The Marketplace, 740 Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801. (626) 300-9898
Date: December 29, 2016 & July 17, 2017 and March 10 & September 15 and December 22, 2019
Cuisine: Cantonese Chinese
Rating: Great — and great value — Cantonese
The San Gabriel Valley is just oozing with new Chinese Restaurants to try.
And no category is more crowded than the Cantonese Banquet House. Top Island fits right in the middle of this pack, offering up all the luxury ingredients in a big format at reasonable prices. Look at that sign on the left, lobster for $8.99!
Sweet and sour goose webs (3/10/19). Goose webs are goose feet. These had the weird texture, but a really nice interesting sour flavor.
BBQ pork and jellyfish (3/10/19). Awesome sweet BBQ pork and first class jellyfish. Not all jellyfish is that great but this one was.
The super deluxe BBQ plate (earlier and 12/22/19) with pork, chicken, jellyfish, pork hock/foot and more (9/15/19)!
Westlake Beef Soup (9/15/19 and 12/22/19). Really addictive soft textured mix of ground beef (or maybe pork), tofu, egg white etc. Very mild but delicious.
Walnut shrimp. Sure it’s a white guy dish, but this was delicious.
Salt and pepper shrimp (9/15/19 and 12/22/19). Someone doesn’t know how to mix up the preps. Very salty, but delicious.
2006 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Hyde Vineyard. VM 89. Dark red. Subdued, brooding aromas of dark cherry and chocolate. Fresher red and dark berry flavors are brightened by zesty minerals and given grip by dusty tannins. Finishes with very good persistence but limited definition. A serious, deeply concentrated style of pinot that needs some cellar time to loosen up.
Peking Duck (earlier and 3/10/19 and 9/15/19 and 12/22/19). This particular duck came with buns instead of pancakes. These were really nice buns, smaller than some. The meat was great, as good as any LA peking duck.
The skin was in the first picture, most of the meat was here. Needed more hoisin sauce as usual.
2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard Riesling No. 198 Reserve. VM 90. Quite reduced on the nose, with slightly shy aromas of Asian pear, white pepper, champagne mango and chamomile. The palate is quite honeyed and coats the cheeks and tongue in a soft layer of sweet fruit. A strong acidity keeps the palate in motion and prevents the wine from feeling fat. 58 grams per liter of residual sugar.
From my cellar: 2006 Henri Boillot Meursault 1er Cru Charmes. VM 93. Ripe peach, orange and hazelnut on the nose; a real essence of Charmes. Then opulent, sweet and rich but with very good inner-mouth tension to the ripe peach flavor. A seamless, highly concentrated wine with a wonderfully silky texture and a very long, fruit-driven finish. This fruit was harvested early, noted Boillot.
Seb brought: 2005 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex. 92+. There is no doubting this is Sauvignon blanc – it has that straight out green grass, a bit of lime, definitely very crisp although not tart. When NZ makes SB, this is what they are going for I think. Very well done version of that style.
Lobster noodles. A solid lobster dish. Maybe a touch “fishy” and while the noodles looked gross, they tasted great with the drippings.
2012 Giesen Pinot Noir The Brothers. VM 90. Bright medium red. Perfumed aromas of strawberry, rose petal and spices. Juicy and intense, offering very good concentration to its brambly red berry and cherry flavors. Finishes with firm but smooth tannins and very good tactile persistence.
Lobster Causeway style. Covered in crunchy garlic bits. Awesome! We ate the salty garlic by itself too afterward.
Dungeness Crab with garlic sauce (3/10/19). Very light fry. Delicious sauce and shell was soft enough you could crunch through it.
We didn’t have the King Crab the first couple of times I went but we should have. So we got one on 3/10/19. Only $17 a pound or something!
King crab causeway style (3/10/19 and 9/15/19 and 12/22/19). Might have been fried but those garlic bits were so good!
King crab with garlic (3/10/19 and 9/15/19 and 12/22/19). Tender and delicious.
Curried Meat. Can’t remember which meat, maybe beef or mutton. Pretty delicious though.
Seb brought: 2010 Marcassin Pinot Noir Blue-Slide Ridge Vineyard. 95 points. In a great place. A showy wine highlighting ripe red fragrant fruits with a sweet edgy appeal. Quite pretty for a large scale pinot as slightly faded sour cherry fruits are well integrated with bright acidity and baking spice. Finishes really lasts. Quality stuff.
Pigeon (earlier and 3/10/19 and 9/15/19 and 12/22/19). Straight from the Promenade — but actually quite nice.
Chopped pork and string beans. Classic dish. Excellent verison with crunchy beans and lots of pork.
Chinese greens. tasty (surprisingly).
A different tasty green (3/10/19 and 9/15/19).
Stalks with Chinese sausage (3/10/19 and 12/22/19). Love that salty/sweet sausage. Offsets the fibrous stalks nicely.
2015 Château Doisy-Daëne Grand Vin Sec. 93 points. Tasted like Durian! Very dry and very interesting.
2002 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon The Montelena Estate. VM 93. Good deep ruby-red. Highly aromatic nose combines musky redcurrant and tobacco. Plush, broad and fine-grained; atypically sexy and showy for this wine, in much the same way that Montelena’s basic 2002 Napa cabernet is unusually pliant and rich. Finishes with big, dusty, but rather suave tannins. This offers early accessibility but has the material and structure for extended aging. The alcohol here is 14.3%, the highest since the 1978, which was 14.4%.
Adam brought: 2004 Harlan Estate Proprietary Red Wine. Parker 98. Another rating identical to that which was given in 2007 (when first tasted from bottle), the 2004 Harlan Estate is performing essentially the way I suggested in 2007 as it is one of the more precocious and accessible of the Harlan Estate wines to date. A great showing at this retrospective, this wine, which seems like a hypothetical blend of a Pauillac, St.-Estephe and Graves, represents around 1,500 cases from 40 acres of beautifully manicured hillside vineyards overlooking Oakville. Still dense purple to the rim, with notes of creme de cassis, charcoal, blackberry and sweet toast, the wine is full-bodied and voluptuously textured with the tannins largely resolved. But the density and richness suggest this wine can go a long, long way, even though the window for drinking it seems open and inviting already. A world-class, first-growth wine if there ever was one from Napa, this is simply an exquisite Harlan Estate that has atypically reached mid to late adolescence at the age of ten. That is great given the fact that these are 30- to 40-year wines – possibly even half-century wines. Drink it over the next 30 years.
Black pepper beef (earlier and 9/15/19). Vietnamese style dish, quite good.
Steamed fish with ginger and soy. Too plain for my taste.
I brought some pistachio gelato from home (which I made).
Red bean soup for dessert. Looked like the output of a bad case of food poisoning.
Close up 9/15/19.
After my advanced gelato class, trying a slightly new pistachio formulation — Pistachio Madeline Gelato — base uses my same awesome Pistachios from Bronte Sicily but also a small amount of egg yolk for extra body. I baked the Madelines from scratch and soaked them in hand made Grand Mariner syrup — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — oh my! — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #IceCream #NomNom #dessert #Pistachio #lemon #orange #Sicily #GrandMariner #Madeline #cookie #baking
Getting whacky — Thai Peanut Coconut Lime Chili Gelato — Salty peanuts, Thai coconut cream, lime zest, and serrano chillies — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — almost too spicy! — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #IceCream #NomNom #dessert #chili #spicy #thai #peanut #coconut #lime #SavorySweet #Serrano
9/15/19 two more gelati:
Cherry Cioccolato Fondente Gelato — working to squeeze the most chocolate humanly possible into a dairy gelato. This is 70% cocoa Valrhona and 100% Callebaut Chocolate base is my best yet — only 17% milk it has an INTENSE chocolate taste, plus house-made White Chocolate Amareno Cherry Ganache rounds it out — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #chocolate #valrhona #Callebaut #cherry #amareno
Matcha Almond Latte Gelato – Ceremonial Matcha Green Tea and Sicilian Noto Romano Almond gelato base — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato –#dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #almond #matcha #GreenTea #Sicily
Overall, a great time and really solid meal. Orignally, I thought Top Island isn’t in the league with Elite or such for high end Cantonese, but this whole feast was $35 a person with tax and tip! So considering with had Peking Duck, Lobster etc and it was all very tasty this was a steal. All the dishes were enjoyable and they have a huge menu. Plus, as Yarom says, “they treated us like Pharaohs.” I.e. we had great service as they were very warm and brought out all the dishes “slowly” (by Chinese standards). Too bad they don’t have this sort of quality on the Westside!
I also must chime in that in light of our 3/10/19 dinner I have to upgrade Top Island to one of the best SGV Cantonese places. The service is really great. They brought us our dishes in a carefully selected (wine friendly) order, one at a time. The prices on sometimes expensive things like lobster and king crab are really fabulous, and overall dish quality is extremely high. Almost every dish was excellent that night (and on a previous trip a couple weeks before I missed). Great place!
For the 9/15/19 and 12/22/19 dinner I continue my thinking that Top Island has a really top notch Cantonese kitchen. Food is really really good. Service is great too, although the place is a bit of a zoo given how big and popular it is. Our 12/22/19 was a hilarious CF of a dinner though — not in any way the restaurant’s fault. We had a table they said seated 12-14, which really seated about 10-12 (and 12 was pushing it) and then ended up with 15 people (because it’s hard to manage the numbers at these things). We were so packed in at this table, sitting an extra foot away so the chairs made it around. But most problematically, with 15 people the dishes only got around to about 12ish — and so it turned into a “lord of the flies” style frenzy. Total chaos — if a touch amusing.
And a bunch of wines from the second night: