Sunday, September 4, 2011

Koi Palace - 08/28/2011

365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015
(650) 992-9000

There aren't many places outside of Asia that can compare to Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley when it comes to dim sum. A large Asian population and an abundance of competition has resulted in the area's best restaurants offering the Designer's Holy Triangle: food that is good, fast, AND cheap.

With its own substantial Chinese population, San Francisco is one of the few places that might be able to give the SGV a run for the title of best dim sum in the US. Having tasted many of the best places at home I couldn't miss the opportunity to see how the Bay Area stacked up. Yank Sing is the trendy favorite, but those in the know consider Koi Palace to be superior.

Knowing the restaurant was likely to be crowded, we arrived at the restaurant around 10:45 only to find the waiting area was already filled with people. According to the restaurant's queuing system, some people had already been waiting for 40 minutes. Fortunately we only had to wait 20 minutes before being seated.

Soy Marinated Duck Tongue
Not something you see every day on dim sum menus and with good reason: it takes a lot of ducks to make each order. These are actually a bit laborious to eat, basically a small flap of skin and cartilage the tongues are more about textural contrast than anything else.

Pork Ribs in Black Bean Sauce
A spot-on preparation of spare ribs, the meat is a nice mix of lean meat and fat while the and seasoned with a fermented earthy funk from the black bean sauce.

Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gow)
Har gow is arguably the most popular dim sum and is often the one used to judge the overall skill of a chef. In that regard this was something of a mixed effort. The skin was thin and translucent but a touch sticky and too frail. Likewise the shrimp was plentiful and nicely flavored but slightly overcooked.

Steamed Chicken Claws with Black Bean Sauce
For some reason this seems to be the dish most people recall when I mention dim sum. Despite looking quite fearsome, the "Phoenix Claws" are actually quite good. Preparing the feet is actually fairly laborious; the feet are fried then steamed to give the skin a tender fleshy texture before being stewed and simmered to imbue them with flavor.

Glutinous Dumpling with Diced Pork
No other type of dim sum is as wildly inconsistent as these football shaped balls of fried glutinous rice. Old they are dense dull with a congealed interior. Fortunately these were freshly fried, the exterior is crisp, sticky and sweet while the piping hot interior adds a deliciously salty contrast.

Steamed BBQ Pork Bun
I actually meant to order the baked buns, but it was a nice change of pace to try the steamed version. The bao itself is airy and light while the pork is finely diced and liberally sauced resulting in a luscious sweet filling for the bun.

Shark Fin Large Dumpling Soup
I was expecting this to be something like an enlarged xiao long bao filled entirely with soup. Instead what we got was a dumpling submerged in broth. The flavor had an echo of the gao tong that normally accompanies sharks fine, but the dumpling itself was a muddy disconcerting mess.

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling Topped with XO Sauce
This was another of my favorites, the skin was sturdier than the regular shrimp dumpling and the topping of dried scallop augmented the dish with a potent umami sapor.

Vegetarian Spring Roll
Thinking that they probably had their fill of duck tongue and chicken feet. I ordered this for the less experienced dim sum eaters in our party. Despite having a nice crispness, the bland vegetable mix reminded me why I normally steer clear of this course.

Shanghai Crab Roe Steamed Pork Dumplings
I was surprised to see this on the menu at Koi Palace for two reasons. Firstly, Shanghai crabs are a delicacy in China prized for their roe with some species commanding over $100 per kilogram. Furthermore, Xiao Long Bao is actually a dish from Eastern China not commonly found at traditional dim sum restaurants. Tradition aside I was quite pleased with this dish, the roe added an interesting wrinkle to the traditional XLB.

Black Truffle Mushroom Siu Mai
Unconventional dishes like this one are what set Koi Palace apart from the typical dim sum restaurant. Though the truffles didn't really add much to the dish, I appreciated the thought that went into their inclusion.

Sea Scallop Dumpling
Though labeled as a scallop dumpling, the scallops were fairly muted both texturally and in terms of taste. Instead this was really more like a har gow with scallops added for a denser meaty texture.

Baked Portuguese Custard Tart
The Portuguese custard tart was basically a dan tat writ large: sweeter, richer, and more of it to love. In fact one theory on the origin of dan tat suggests that they evolved from the Portuguese pastel de nata which traveled to Hong Kong via Macau.

Crusty Baked BBQ Pork Bun
After I mistakenly ordered the steamed buns earlier, one of my companions insisted on trying the baked version. Though we had to wait a while the buns were worth it.

Shrimp Rice Roll
We decided to finish off the meal with another childhood staple. Unlike the other classic dim sum my feelings were mixed on this dish, the shrimp to wrapper ratio was perfect, but the texture of both was a bit off.

While I appreciated the unconventional touches on some of the specials at Koi Palace, the execution on some of the conventional dim sum falls short. In the end, Koi Palace put up a valiant effort and I enjoyed the food immensely, but I still prefer my favorites in Southern California particularly once price is factored in.


Aaron said...

$1250 for dim sum for 5 people? That's outrageous! For what you ate, it certainly wasn't worth the price. I've been to Koi Palace for dinner, which is quite good. Never did the dim sum though.

Epicuryan said...

Lol wrong receipt it was the receipt from dinner that night. Dim sum cost $100 for the four of us.

Rodzilla said...

I've always wondered what you do with the bone of the duck tongues - it would be nice if they split them open and removed them before cooking.

Still need to try those and chickens feet.

Epicuryan said...

Probably too labor intensive to remove the bones. Besides they probably give the tongues structure while they are cooking.

Sam C. said...

Interesting dim sum they've got there. They definitely added a little twist to traditional dim sum(who adds truffle to siu mai??)

By the way, how did you guys pass the line so quicky??

Epicuryan said...

Yeah the truffle seems like it was there more for wow factor than flavor.

We used the time honored tradition of slipping the hostess a $20. Actually I don't know why we got seated so quick, there were like 3 parties ahead of us, maybe they didn't want our table. It was kind of by the entrance and the kitchen

Lynn said...

Where do you like to go in SGV? My favorite is sea harbor seafood!

Epicuryan said...


Sea Harbor is a good choice. On the pricier side, I like King Hua in Alhambra. For cheaper dim sum I go to Monterey Palace.

Anonymous said...

Nice information on what has to be done to prepare the chicken claws.

What was off about the texture of the shrimp rice rolls?

Epicuryan said...

You're welcome. Be sure to invite me over when you perfect the chicken feet recipe :)

The shrimp was overcooked and tough while the skin was a but too dense and sticky for my tastes.