Sunday, August 28, 2011

Koi Palace (Daly City, CA)

Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015
Sun 08/28/2011, 10:45a-12:15p

Regular readers will know that I'm not huge into dim sum. I guess I just hadn't had good experiences with it (ironic, given that I'm Chinese), so I was hoping to change that viewpoint at Koi Palace, which is, according to many, the best dim sum in California. It's supposedly Jonathan Gold's favorite Cantonese in the country, and the place has been on Michael Bauer's "Top 100 Restaurants" list every year since 2003. Koi Palace was opened in 1996 at Serramonte Plaza by General Manager Willy Ng and Chef Kam-Chiu Leung, and ever since then, the restaurant's been a go-to choice for elaborate multi-course banquets and fresh seafood, in addition to the dim sum. The success of Koi Palace has allowed Ng and company to open up another location at Thunder Valley Casino, as well as Koi Garden and Just Koi (a casual noodle house) at the new Ulferts Center in Dublin.

Koi Palace Dining Room
The cavernous dining room features over 400 seats, yet there's still a substantial wait.

Koi Palace Dim Sum Menu Koi Palace Dim Sum Menu Koi Palace Dim Sum Menu Koi Palace Dim Sum Menu
Koi Palace's menu is ginormous, listing several hundred dishes. The dim sum selection, fortunately, is a bit more tractable, and mostly made-to-order, featuring all the classics, as well as some more unique, ambitious items. Click for larger versions.

Soy Marinated Duck Tongue
Soy Marinated Duck Tongue [$5.80]
We kicked things off with duck tongue, which I found snappy in consistency, crispy even, and which one of my dining companions even compared to pig ear in texture. Flavor-wise, think sweet and umami-soaked. Not bad, though I wouldn't necessarily order it again.

Steamed Chicken Claws with Black Bean Sauce
Steamed Chicken Claws with Black Bean Sauce [$3.80]
Chicken feet, meanwhile, were expectedly gelatinous and crunchy, with a sweet savoriness to boot. For those of you who haven't tried "phoenix claws" before, it's actually pretty non-offensive once you get past the appearance.

Pork Ribs in Black Bean Sauce
Pork Ribs in Black Bean Sauce [$2.80]
Pork ribs were delightful, tender and flavorful, with a lovely piquancy from the black bean.

Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gow)
Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gow) [$4.80]
Xia jiao is one of the most popular types of dim sum, and here it did not disappoint. The shrimp was cooked through, but still snappy and satisfying in consistency, and very flavorful, working well with its thin, slightly gelatinous wrapper.

Glutinous Dumpling with Diced Pork
Glutinous Dumpling with Diced Pork [$2.80]
The haam sui gaau, or salt water dumpling, was arguably my favorite course of the meal. Basically, they're deep-fried rice flour dumplings filled with pork and veggies, and I loved the keen interplay between the sweet and savory flavors here, as well as the thick, sticky consistency of the wrapper.

Steamed BBQ Pork Bun
Steamed BBQ Pork Bun [$2.80]
The dim sum staple of cha siu bao was up next. This was a textbook preparation of the dish, with a keen sweet savoriness from the barbecued pork that was deftly tempered by the subtle flavors of the fluffy steamed bun.

Shark Fin Large Dumpling Soup
Shark Fin Large Dumpling Soup [$6.50]
The broth here showed off a profound depth of flavor that I found marvelously intoxicating, and was perfectly set off by the application of the accompanying vinegar. It went superbly with the pork dumpling, while the shark fin added an interesting textural component. Another favorite.

Steamed Shrimp Dumpling Topped with XO Sauce
Steamed Shrimp Dumpling Topped with XO Sauce [$4.80]
As good as the standard har gow was, this version was even better. The dumpling's topping of XO sauce and dried scallop added a fantastically heady, umami-soaked smack to the dish that heightened the shrimp's inherent flavor beautifully. Yet another highlight of the meal.

Vegetarian Spring Roll
Vegetarian Spring Roll [$2.80]
The spring roll, however, was fairly pedestrian, with flavors that were slightly piquant, but somewhat muddled. Nice crispness on the wrapper, though.

Shanghai Crab Roe Steamed Pork Dumplings
Shanghai Crab Roe Steamed Pork Dumplings [$9.90]
Xiaolongbao, meanwhile, was elevated by the application of crab roe, making it another of my favorites. I loved the tangy burst of flavor experienced upon mastication, and how the salinity of the crab served to offset the weight of the pork.

Black Truffle Mushroom Siu Mai
Black Truffle Mushroom Siu Mai [$6.50]
Shumai was quite nice as well, a classic presentation deftly conveying the essence of pork. The truffle, however, wasn't all that apaprent, making itself known only on the finish.

Sea Scallop Dumpling
Sea Scallop Dumpling [$3.80]
Here was yet another version of the xia jiao, this one tarted up by the utilization of scallop in addition to the shrimp, which resulted in additional complexity and sweetness, as well as a more supple consistency.

Baked Portuguese Custard Tart
Baked Portuguese Custard Tart [$4.80]
In lieu of the standard dan tat, we had these Portuguese egg tarts, derived from the traditional dish of pastel de nata. As mentioned by a commenter below, the differences lies in the more pie-like consistency of the crust, as well as the more caramelized nature of the custard. In any case, these were delicious, showing off an eggy sweetness that paired adroitly with the crisp, flaky pastry.

Crusty Baked BBQ Pork Bun
Crusty Baked BBQ Pork Bun [$3.80]
Here was the baked version of the classic cha siu bao above. The meat here was pretty much identical, but the crusty texture of the bun was a nice change of pace.

Shrimp Rice Roll
Shrimp Rice Roll [$4.80]
We closed things out with the classic dim sum dish of cheong fan. The shrimp, unfortunately, was a touch overcooked, but tasty nevertheless, with a slight sweetness that paired well with the surprisingly light rice noodle roll.

I do not hesitate in calling this the best dim sum experience that I've had, though admittedly, I don't yum cha all that often in the first place. Given the strength of this meal though, perhaps I should start. Here in SoCal, the places to go seem to be Elite, Empress Harbor, Empress Pavilion, King Hua, Ocean Star, and Sea Harbour, to name a few--any other suggestions?


Blogger 12345 said...

Glad you enjoyed the place. I find LA dim sum so overrated. My experiences at Koi Palace and Kirin in Vancouver easily beat any dim sum in LA.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 9:28:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

Koi palace is fine but Elite is better. Consistency/quality of the ingredients.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Allan said...

Here in NYC, we have Ping's. Come East, I will show you Dim Sum.. Another spectacular review, even used the word mastication.. Awesome, thanks

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Tsz said...

Mission 261 is the best in LA in my view :) King Hua is a close 2nd.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Johnny L. said...

Mission 261 might be worth the visit alone for their roast duck which is cheap but can only be had on weekdays I believe.

Elite and Sea Harbor are always touted as being the top two but I've heard that Shanghai No.1 Seafood is a potential contender for the top spot now (considering all the foreign investment it has it better be). If you ever want to hit up one of these dim sum joints hit me up!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 3:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Empress Pavillion isn't what it once was. You could skip it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 4:31:00 PM  
Blogger EatTravelEat said...

How fancy. I ate here for dinner almost a year ago; complimentary tortise jelly was a very classy move!

Here in the SGV it seems like Lunasia (sp), Elite, Sea Harbour, and Mission 261 are the more renown choices for higher end dim sum.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 8:24:00 PM  
Anonymous BitoBite said...

Try Elite in LA.

But you really have to experience it in Hong Kong. Stateside restaurants (even Koi) pale in comparison to the top dogs in HK.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Waleed: I've heard about Kirin as well. Even given your disdain for LA dim sum though, do you have any picks?

Charlie: Ah yes, I remember you talking about organzing dim sum meals there on the wine boards. What wines do you find pair best?

Allan: Ha! Hadn't heard of Ping's before--is it the top spot in NYC?

Tsz: Hmm not familiar with that one. What do you like about it?

Johnny: Thanks man. Shanghai No 1 Seafood is another one that's new to me.

Anon: Noted, it's moving down the list.

Wilson: Lunasia--forgot about that one; used to be Triumphal Palace right? Why did it change?

BitoBite: Another vote for Elite, moving it up the list. What places do you like in Hong Kong?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 12:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

Koi Palace is easily my fav in the time try the roasted pork, I thought it was excellent.

As for SoCal, don't waste your time with Empress Pavilion or Ocean Star. If you're interested in checking out any of the others, I'd be down to go. And agree with prior comment about Lunasia, I think it's worth mentioning (went through some ownership changes post-TP). You probably already know this, but Urasawa loves Sea Harbour.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 12:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, have you tried Din Tai Fung? Review here. I recently hauled out east for that and was pretty impressed. It isn't straight up cantonese dimsum, but a more noodle/dumpling oriented variety. Very good though. Still, nothing beats this 66 course dimsum dinner I had in Xian China once. It was one of the best meals I've ever had.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 8:31:00 AM  
Blogger Beef No Guy said...

If you return to Koi Palace, you should try the dinners...very high end and good quality. The fried egg puff balls (like donut holes) called Sa Yung is one of the best in town (Southern California has yet to catch up on this revival old school snack), and supposedly outperforms many renditions even in Hong Kong as these are fried to order. The $50 to $60 canned braised abalone is already pre-cooked (so you can reheat them at home) and is Cantonese seafood restaurant quality...the smaller ones from TW are good, but the South African ones are also excellent. Splurge on the fresh seafood from the tanks, and try the Shanghainese style crab 賽螃蟹 where the original receipe was fish paste, egg whites, vinegar, salt, pepper...but KP takes it a step further and uses real dungeoness crab, with the legs served separately as salt pepper fried. Really really good. Oh yeah dragon beard candy too...multiple flavors.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 2:00:00 PM  
Blogger asdfqwerty said...

I'm surprised you didn't list 888 as one of dim sum places to go in LA. Have you ever been there?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 2:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, Don't eat Shark Fin Soup. Period. It is impossible to source responsibly. For as bright and informative as you are, I am surprised you would participate in that slaughter. Harvesting shark fin is the equivalent of shooting a cow, cutting off its ear and throwing the rest of the carcass away. Thanks, Matthew

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 3:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Robins said...

Had a ridiculous meal here where the waiters thought we were crazy and had to bring over another table to hold the food. All good until the ill-advised sea cucumber order. Glad you enjoyed!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 7:31:00 PM  
Anonymous BitoBite said...

Kevin, I ate a Lei Garden's branch in Tsim Sha Tsui. I'm sure there are others in HK as good or better.

Upon my return, dined at Sea Harbor and basically swore off dim sum locally for about six months before my cravings got the better of me.

Vancouver in North America also trumps SF, LA options.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012 8:44:00 PM  
Blogger 12345 said...

I enjoyed Din Tai Fung and CBS Seafood. Been to Elite, Sea Harbour, Capital Seafood and New Concept ( I believe that's what it was called when it was open).

Thursday, January 05, 2012 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between portuegese egg tarts and regular egg tarts are that the portuegese ones have more of a pie crust shell instead of the more phyllo like crust of the regular ones.

The portuegese ones are also drastically more caramellized on top and have a more runny center.

Thursday, January 05, 2012 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Darin: Yep I definitely know about Hiro and Sea Harbour; I think I've even heard reports of people seeing him there. Chinese is his second favorite type of food after all. What exactly was the story behind Lunasia and Triumphal?

Andy: Nope, haven't been to DTF yet--sacrilege I know. Honestly I've never thought of it as a dim sum place though, as you mentioned.

BNG: Yeah I've actually heard that the dinner outshines the dimsum there, especially when you opt for the live seafood. I did get some dragon beard this time though. ;)

asdfqwerty: You know I'm familiar with the place, but it doesn't seem to get as much love as some of the others. How does it stack up?

Matthew: Well I suppose I had to have it one last time before the ban.

Sean: Wow, what happened with the sea cucumbers?

BitoBite: Ah thanks for the Lei Garden rec--I've heard it mentioned before as well. So Elite is your top pick then here in SoCal I assume. Is Sea Harbour no good, or did it merely pale in comparison to the stuff in HK?

Waleed: Got it--thanks. CBS is a place that I've not heard mentioned in a long time.

Anon: Appreciate the clarification. I'll update the post accordingly.

Thursday, January 05, 2012 7:31:00 PM  
Blogger veg8 said...

Sea Harbour in SGV is the closet to HK style dim sum you can get in socal. Quality is better on the weekdays as they are not as crowded, went last week on thur around 12 and the wait was about 15 tables.

Friday, January 06, 2012 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

I don't really know much of the story at all, but TonyC may be able to shed some light:

Saturday, January 07, 2012 8:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

veg8: Thanks--another vote for Sea Harbour!

Darin: That actually was helpful, though it seems like Tony wasn't enthralled with the place.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 12:27:00 AM  

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