On Saturday, November 1, at 11 a.m., Santa Barbara finally became a big-league restaurant town. At that moment, the China Pavilion (1202 Chapala St., 560-6028, china-pavilion.com) opened its doors to a small crowd of slatheringly expectant people with hope in their hearts responding to the promise of real dim sum served from carts in steam baskets. They were not disappointed. Peter Chen’s unbelievably hard-working kitchen turned out a menu ranging from plump pork and shrimp shu mai, through unguent thin pork and seafood porridges all the way to a Chen innovation, shrimp and lychee fruit in a fried wrapper. The best news is that the dim sum was as good as anything we’ve experienced north of the San Gabriel Valley and, even better, an order of six dishes with tea came to a mere $25.22, which is a price competitive with Chinatown menus from Boston to San Francisco. The bao was fluffy with anise-y five-spice flavor BBQ pork inside, and the pan-fried daikon cake was firm, warm, and delicately crisped on its outer shell. The elegant rooms were packed with families, couples, and friends indulging in that most pleasurable of treats, a midday feast you didn’t need to traverse the state to enjoy.
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