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Dinner at Zen Peninsula, Millbrae

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  • Melanie Wong May 12, 2006 11:55 PM
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Last month ex-SF, now-NY chowhounder, chibi, returned to our fair city for a convention and was chomping at the bit to have some good Cantonese seafood. Her previous visit we ate at Parc Hong Kong on Geary, this time we headed down to Millbrae. The Kitchen had just opened, but we thought it was too soon to bet her one meal on. So we headed over to Zen Peninsula. While I've had lunch there before, this was a first visit at dinner time. On a Monday night it wasn't very busy. The live seafood tanks, other than the teeming snow crab quarters, were stocked sparsely. We assumed they'd been cleaned out from a busy weekend and not replenished yet.

We started with one of the signature dishes as an appetizer, the honey glazed barbecued pork (char siu). It's made with pork neck meat which has a smooth and slightly chewy texture. The cross-cut slices had the tender rind and crunchy fat layer (that was so good!). I found the glaze a bit too sweet and monotonal and it didn't have charred carmelization that would have it made it more interesting. But it was a nice cut and not very expensive. I'd certainly order it again to see if another batch might turn out a little differently.

For our geoduck two-ways (priced at $25 per pound), we picked 1) stir-fried with yellow chives and 2) salt and pepper with crispy tofu cubes. We both liked the salt and pepper version with a nicely piquant heat from red chili flakes as well as fresh jalapeños and plenty of garlic. It was a little on the greasy side, but delicious nonetheless. The stir-fry suprised me with the addition of sugar peas making it a more substantial dish. If we'd known that ahead of time, we wouldn't have ordered a separate dish of pea shoots. The slices of geoduck had the fresh sweet flavor of top quality, live clams. Chibi liked the firm almost crunchy texture, whereas I would have liked a more tender bite, however, that's just personal preference.

The dish of the night was scallops with egg whites, as shown below. Wow, wow, wow! We loved this one. The egg whites were fully cooked curds yet had a near-custardy texture. The chunks of sweet and intensely flavorful scallops blended into the whites had the perfect juicy and barely cooked flesh. Salty nubbins sprinkled over added depth and suprise pinpoints of sweet-saltiness. I used the egg yolk on mine which made the flavors of this dish fuller and pop out even more, while chibi refrained from this raw condiment. Even the oil that glistens the egg whites was special, wonderfully aromatic and enriched by the wok.

The pea shoots were quite good here, sauteed to just the right balance of soft and crisp. We loved the whole cloves of carmelized, soft and sweet wok-roasted garlic that flavored these seasonal greens.

To finish, we were served two complimentary desserts. The tong sui was green bean with ginger and dried orange peel. The mignardise plate had buttery cookies and coconut-coated custardy chewy things that we hypothesized had tapioca or glutinous rice flour. Chibi noticed that the table next to us had been offered a choice of dofu fa or tong sui, whereas ours was just brought to us. That's a small quibble since we liked both sweets.

When I asked chibi to sum up her opinion of Zen Peninsula, she said, "My recent Cantonese eating has been in Hong Kong and New York . . . which are heaven and hell. I'm not sure I can judge any more, still I think this is really good." I'd agree with her that Zen reaches for the heavens.

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  1. Thanks, Melanie, for your nicely described (as usual) dinner at Zen P. We had dinner there only because our usual pre-airport dinner spot whenever the schedule allowed was the lamented Seafood Harbor, and were really pleased. Geoduck and the scallops sounded good. Are they off a standard menu or is there a separate Chinese one? I wondered as I looked it over whether there were some choices I was missing out on. Anyway, glad to know you had an enjoyable meal there as we have another evening airport journey in the near future.
    A.

    8 Replies
    1. re: al@Fairfax

      I was curious too so I pulled up their menu and found:
      ِó¦Ð· - Shanghai style egg white and scallop
      Maybe this was the dish?
      See below for their website

      Link: http://www.zenpeninsula.com/products.htm

      1. re: RWCFoodie

        Thanks, RWC. To answer Al's question, the egg white and scallop dish is on the English language menu with a photograph. The section from the "Gallery" section of the website where it's listed is shown below. My recollection though is that it was $16, not $14.

        As far as the geoduck, I don't know if that prep was on the menu. Whenever you go to this type of HK-style seafood restaurant, all you have to do is check out the live seafood tanks for what looks the most active and appeals to you, as well as the market prices to see what's within budget. Then you ask your server to recommend styles of preparation for the desired beast. For geoduck, the alternatives were sashimi style for the part that went into our stir-fry or poached in soup for the bellies that we had salt and peppered with the tofu.

        Then to order vegetables, you ask your waiter what greens are available and freshest that day. And, again, you ask for how it should be prepared, then pick one of the methods.

        It's easy . . . standard operating procedure.

        Image: http://www.zenpeninsula.com/images/09...

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Ahhh I was wondering what that was until I saw the menu.

          The scallop in egg white is pronounced "choy pong hai" in Cantonese (hai referring to crab).

          My father told me a story behind this dish, which dates back sometime during the Qing Dynasty. This was a dish made for the empress. Can't remember if the story said she liked or disliked crab but could not eat it, so the royal chefs came up with this "mock" crab dish (which had no crab in it) which was designed to have some seafood/shellfish taste in it.
          When done right, this is a superb dish to have. I can see the mass appeal of this dish as even the elderly could bite into it.

          1. re: KK

            It is a refined and subtle dish. There seem to be versions of it on the ZP menu with yee foo mein or as fried rice that are a bit less costly.

            I'd love to know what the technique is to make the egg whites come out like that. Chibi and I have had something similar at Jai Yun in SF made with fresh abalone. I think that sometimes Jai Yun makes it with scallops too.

      2. re: al@Fairfax

        P.S. What did you order for your meal there?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Arrrgggg! A memory question! It has been several weeks and I did not keep my notes so I am relying on a takeout menu from ZP to remind me. We wanted to do something like our old Seafood Harbor regular dishes and so started out with the double boiled soup of the day. ZP was pork broth based and had meat and bones where SH was always chicken based when we had it. Both are very tasty and provide nourishment for the journey. We asked about fresh greens and when I heard ong choy I went for that; it came with bits of mildly funky tofu, chili flakes and garlic and was great. Then, uhhh, some kind of tofu which I might have been with dried scallop; all I remember was finely done tofu, crispy outside, creamy inside. And then one other dish which was...sorry. Will keep better notes next time and order off the Dinner Special menu. A Chowhound slap on the wrist for me.

          1. re: al@Fairfax

            Sounds like you ordered well! Also, that ZP didn't hesitate to make your ong choy with fu yee (fermented bean curd), which is my favorite prep. At some places the waiters take some convincing that non-chinese want the stuff.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Actually, the server suggested it when I said I wanted ong choy. And were we happy with the preparation! So with your comment it makes me very willing to ask for suggestions at ZP in future.