Emerald Seafood Restaurant
3709 Convoy Street, Suite 101
San Diego, CA 92111
Emerald Seafood Restaurant seems like an apt restaurant to start my first blog review based on the history of the restaurant. Emerald was one of the first restaurants to open in Kearny Mesa in the early 1990s, before the area became the premiere neighborhood in San Diego for all types of Asian food. Its quality and location, similar to what you could start to find a few years earlier in the then-burgeoning San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, helped establish Kearny Mesa as THE place in San Diego for quality Chinese food. In fact, until Jasmine opened a few years later, Emerald basically reigned supreme as the best Chinese restaurant in the county.
Unfortunately, the quality at Emerald had stagnated and waned in the early 2000s, partially owing to turnover in the kitchen staff and probably partially due to the fact that San Diego did not experience the continued growth and competition that the San Gabriel area saw at the time. Until recently, the food at Emerald left much to be desired, with the Dim Sum being especially hit or miss depending on the day and time you went there.
However, my grandfather decided that he wanted to have dinner there for Mother’s Day weekend so we went. We ordered a number of dishes which was definitely enough to gauge the quality of the place. These dishes included Peking Duck Two Ways (Sliced duck with steamed buns and stir-fried duck with lettuce wraps), Seafood and Tofu Hot Pot, Stir fried Tong Choy with Garlicky Fish Paste, Steamed Meatloaf with Dried Scallop, Salt and Pepper Fried Pork Chops, and Fish with Vegetables.
Overall, it was a fairly good meal and reminiscent of the quality I remember that made it such a choice restaurant in the 1990s. The duck was roasted perfectly, with succulent but crispy skin. The Fish with Vegetables and Seafood with Tofu Hot Pot had great flavor and balance, without anything overpowering each dish. The Steamed Meatloaf reminded me of the homestyle cooking my mom did. However, the Tong Choy lacked a lot of that destinctive fish paste flavor I am used to, partially because the vegetables weren’t as fresh as they could be and partially because they didn’t put as much as they should. The Salt and Pepper Pork Chops, while certainly not bad, did nothing to distinguish itself from other restaurants in town.
The service was also a bit haphazard as well. While I understand it is Mother’s Day weekend, they usually don’t have such service problems during Chinese New Year or weekend Dim Sum service. They had forgotten our ice water request and we had to mention our rice order again. They were also fairly slow in refilling our teapots and we waited 10 minutes just to order that night. The dishes certainly came at a reasonable pace and the servers did seem to be trying, so it wasn’t all bad. It just left a lot to be desired, especially given the attentive service you would find in China Max.
All in all, the food was good and reminded me of why it has been a well regarded long standing gem in the first place. It does, however, need a bit more refinement in service. I would definitely come back to this long standing Kearny Mesa institution again, but it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice (unless, of course, my grandfather is treating for the meal).