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Koi Palace, Heads Up

  • m

Koi Palace in Daly City has been highly praised on these boards by me and others. After a recent experience there, a caution is in order. Especially since this is the second time the kitchen has been way off the mark. Like the previous occasion, the place was jam packed with extra tables squeezed in the aisles. If you see this, head for the door. The kitchen doesn't seem to have the quality control measures to keep pace with above normal demands.

This last time, we had our regular waiter who was great as always. The owner Willy Ng who I've known for almost 10 years, was in the house and greeted us warmly. He stopped by our table when we were still in the "good" part of dinner, so we didn't have a chance to complain when we hit the bumps in the road.

He'd said that they'd had an extraordinary number of drop-ins for a week night and had run out of several items. The suckling pig - our primary reason for having dinner there - was already sold out. Instead we chose the soy sauce chicken/jelly fish cold plate. Not bad, not really good either. The jelly fish was underseasoned and too crunchy and while the chicken had the exquisite silken texture, the flavorings were one-dimensional. Mom was pretty unhappy about this.

Next up was the steamed live LA shrimp at $16/lb. (10 pieces). These were perfect, and Willy timed his visit to our table just right to find us happy with the dish in front of us.

Geoduck clams served two ways ($50) included a light but intensely flavored clear soup with watercress, soft clam belly, silken tofu cubes and mushrooms. This was very good too. But the second dish, sauteed slices of clam with yellow leeks fell off and turned out rubbery. This dish requires split-second timing, and no one was paying attention in the kitchen. Big disappointment.

The beef short ribs in pepper sauce that we've had many times is now served in a heavy cast aluminum pot instead of the traditional clay pot. This was a pale imitation of its former glory - pasty pieces of short ribs that were not even browned properly, inadequate seasoning, and lack of harmony. We will not order this dish again.

The long-awaited honey smoked sea bass was terrible. Overcooked and stringy and the none of the crispy glazed edges, again bad timing in the kitchen.

Total tab was $160 for 4 adults, including tax and tip, no extra drinks or dessert. This is a hefty bill for a Cantonese meal, and totally undeserved for the quality we were received. Is this a one-off or a trend? I'd give the place another chance, but only on a slow night.

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  1. Hmm funny, the same thing happened when i went to the flower lounge in Milbrae. The food was completely horrible. I remember before when Koi and the Flower lounge were both my choice for chinese but i would have to rethink that. The funny thing though was that the flower lounge was not even busy but the food still remained bad. As for Koi, its always busy and i think they are just rushing all the orders to be done.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Mike
      m
      Melanie Wong

      Oh joy, I haven't been back to HKFL for dinner after a disappointing Chinese NYEve dinner three years ago. Dim sum still seems ok, but rushed. Have you been to the Palo Alto location? I haven't heard anyone say anything good about it yet.

      Come to think of it, the first bad experience at Koi Palace was also for Chinese NY Eve. But we went back, and the kitchen was fine under less stressful conditions. Maybe that's too much to hope for now.

      By the way, Mike, it would be great if you could pick a more distinct handle so that we could distinguish your posts from other Mikes who drop by. Would really like to hear more of your opinions.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Hows this nickname? Well i haven't been to the palo alto location but i currently revisited Osha, the japanese restaurant across the street from the flower lounge and i must say it was a lot better than my first experience there. I went there about two months ago for the first try and heard good things from a friend so i decided to give it a try. My first visit there was nothing spectacular. Actually i thought that hama-ko and ebisu was a much better sushi place other than the gracious design of Osha. I guess it caters to the upper class crowd down in milbrae. On my second visit, the sashimi and the sof shell crab appetizer was a lot better than the first time i came (i think this is due to the fact that i came with the friend that recommended this place who knows the people that work there in and out). Although still not as good as the real gems, i must say the lobster sashimi that my friend mentioned got my mouth watering. Too bad it wasn't in season or else i would have gave it a try. I would definitely go back when i can try the lobster sashimi. Speaking of which i haven't found one place in San Francisco that offers lobster sashimi. Only had it once when i went to Tokyo and crave for it everyday of my life afterwards.

        1. re: Mike Lee
          m
          Melanie Wong

          Mike Lee, thanks for the name change.

          Gosh, it's probably been about 5 years since I was last at Osho. My brother used to have lunch meetings with his Japanese-American boss there fairly often. He had told him that it was probably managed by Chinese, the extensive menu was a tip off.

          I've done the lobster sashimi thing in Taipei at a sushi bar there. Very dramatic presentation when the antennae on the head are still moving...

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            What a coincidence, i am going to visit taipei in august. Any suggestions on chowhound type places? I do not want to go to the tourist attractions which a lot of people recommended me. But if the food is really great i wouldn't mind giving it a try.

            1. re: Mike Lee

              I had a great sino-japanese east-west lunch at the buffet restaurant on top of the Sogo department store last year. only about $16. If you're a frequent traveler to Asia and upscale japanese hotels, you won't be terribly impressed, but it was a culinary highlight for a relative newbie to Asia like me.

              Avoid the upscale taiwanese steak house chain (Wang's)like the plague, it was horrible in a strange cultural nouveau riche kind of way (but the locals love it).

              1. re: Mike Lee
                m
                Melanie Wong

                Mike, lucky you! You'll get a better response if you re-post your inquiry on the International Board.

                Here's a link to an earlier thread on the topic.

                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            2. re: Mike Lee

              The last time I had lobster sashimi was in a Chinese restaurant in Singapore (right before a course of geoduck clam sashimi). I think such dishes are becoming more common in Chinese places back home.

            3. re: Melanie Wong

              I've been to the HKFL in Palo Alto twice, I think. The dim sum is only average. If I remember correctly, they also use an order sheet system where you write down the quantity you want of each kind of dim sum, rather than the traditional push cart system. That was a great loss in atmosphere for me, but it did ensure that we got what we wanted rather than hoping the right cart would stop by. The menu has color photos of each dim sum dish, which would be helpful if you are introducing someone to dim sum for the first time.

              The biggest faux pas for me was that their mango pudding was served with a strawberry sauce instead of the normal milk/cream sauce. Now that's just WRONG! Not to mention it muddles the flavor of the mango...

              1. re: Nancy Acton

                As always, excellent and useful info, Nancy. You've saved me a trip and disappointing meal.

                I don't understand the strawberry thing at all. Such a shame because the Millbrae branch made one of the best mango bo-ding around.

          2. Thanks for the caution. Has anyone tried Fook Yuen's dim sum, near the HKFlower Lounge? I liked my first visit...

            3 Replies
            1. re: Nikel

              I haven't been to the Fook Yuen in Millbrae for a couple years. Keep getting side-tracked by Seafood Harbor just a little further north on El Camino Real...

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                So Melanie - what should we not miss at Seafood Harbor? Have to pick up my parents at the airport and it'll be just about lunch time! Seafood Harbor was Jim's immediate response to my SFO inquiry - and I don't think I can get my folks to try chicken feet.

              2. re: Nikel

                I've been eating at Fook Yuen for over 10 years and I've found it to be pretty consistent. Went back last week after more than a year away and found it to be as good as ever. Lots of things that I wanted to try but my dining partners weren't as adventurous and I definitely couldn't finish everything on my own. I did notice, however, that there were many fried dishes - fish, squid, shrimp, dumplings. My favorites, steamed and baked dim sum were more scarce. Could have been just timing though.

              3. I'm really sorry to hear of your poor experience at Koi Palace as I've only just discovered the place (confession --I was on the way to the Outback Steakhouse next door at the time, but only because my Texas-born houseguests turned chartreuse at all my other restaurant suggestions!). My experience at Koi Palace was good enough that I planned to go back, in sprite of the metal 'clay pot'. I chalked up the hit or miss quality to my not knowing the best dishes in a new restaurant, but maybe that wasn't it. My husband and I ordered golden chive soup with dried scallops and a plate with varieties of barbecue -- both medium good. We also shared the oysters in clay pot which was fabulous and another dish that slips my mind (probably an indication it was less than impressive.)

                I see you know your food and restaurants. Would you suggest another visit and if so what dishes (in addition to those mentioned in your previous post)?
                Living on Coastside, eating out 'over the hill' except on weekends is difficult so I'll usually hit the busiest times in any restaurant I go to.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jan Holloway

                  The suckling pig at Koi Palace will inevitably lure me back again. Haven't completely written off this place.

                  But I don't know how to guide you through the menu. Screwing up the aluminum/clay pot dish was more cooking technique than equipment, although I've go to believe that a seasoned pot adds part of the flavor. This should have been a no-brainer for the kitchen.

                  The live seafood selection is extensive and turns over quickly so you can be assured of the peak of freshness. Many people have never tried fresh, let alone live-cooked shrimp, so I'd recommend a pound or two of the live ones. I prefer steamed which are served with a dipping sauce. My Taipei colleague said that the ones with tails closed were already dead, the ones with fanned tails hit the water alive. Don't know. Hong Kong shrimp are smaller and take more work to eat, but they are much sweeter and more tender. The LA shrimp that we had were firmer and still very sweet. Be sure to suck the heads for the best taste.

                  There have been several earlier posts about Koi Palace. You might use the search engine on the Chowhound main page to pull those up and see what others have recommended.

                  Don't know how exactly where you are on the coast, but if you're taking Hwy 92 to come over the hill, try stopping further south in Millbrae with its many fine Chinese restaurants instead Daly City. One of my childhood friends lived in Pacifica for many years, then finally moved to Millbrae to be closer to his favorite eats!