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Koi Palace dim sum report

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Don't know why it took me so long to go here - I'm kicking myself, now, for not having gone sooner. I grew up going to dim sum in Queens at least once a month when I was a kid, and I've eaten at a few well-regarded places in San Gabriel Valley - the dim sum I had today pretty much left them all in the dust.

Most of dishes we ordered today were ones I've never seen before (all except one dish were ordered from the check-off menu):

shrimp dumplings topped with dried scallop: these were enormous, a little spicy, really delicious ($4.30 for 3)

X.O. spicy sauce dumpling: my favorite dumplings of the day - these had beautifully, intricately pleated tops, and were very juicy (unfortunately, I didn't anticipate the juice and I sent an arc of the delicious, spicy broth/oil across table when I took my first bite). ($4.30 for 3)

pan-fried steamed pork bun - I think this was the only thing we ordered from a circulating server - these were excellent, with beautifully browned bottoms.

Szechwan style spicy surf clams - these were delicious - sweet, tender/chewy clams, dressed with a spicy sauce, draped on a mound of pickled ginger. The clams and ginger were great for cleansing the palate between all the other porky, shrimpy, umami-heavy dishes. ($5.30 for a generously sized mound)

Dried scallop and mustard green dumplings - these were the only disappointment of the morning - they weren't bad, but the flavors weren't strong enough to really register ($4.30 for 4) Most of the other dumplings came on individual foil "cupcake liners", but these didn't, so they stuck together and broke when we separated them.

Crispy fried dough stuffed rice noodle roll - these were a table favorite - excellent Chinese crullers rolled in a sheet of rice noodle, sliced, and served with a fantastic sesame paste based dipping sauce. (a generous serving for $4.30)

Crab meat filled dumplings w/ whole crab - 10 sweet crabby XLB with a pile of deep fried crab legs, and the fried crab carapace on top. Admittedly, the XLB wrappers were not the best I've ever had (they were a little flabby, and the dumplings were somewhat deflated by the time we got them), but the filling was very good. The deep fried crab was excellent - frying, like roasting, resolves the wateriness that I dislike about Dungeness, and the crab meat was sweet, with an appealingly dense texture. Plus, frying the shells renders them brittle enough to crack with one's teeth, which made eating them easier. Bits of the fried batter on the inner surface of the carapace clung to crab butter - eaten together, they tasted remarkably like the best fried oysters ever. Our most expensive dish, at $28.

sugar egg puffs - these were fantastic, perfectly fried eggy dough (a bit eggier than choux pastry) (5 for $4.30)

Total came out to about $24 pp before tip - the most I've spent on dim sum, but this was so much superior to everything else I've ever had that I'd rather forgo dim sum everywhere else and drop my entire annual dim sum budget here.

Other things on the check-off menu that looked interesting:
pumpkin + sea cucumber rice roll ($5.50)
abalone shuimai king ($6.50)
poached Queen's Clam ($15)
durian paste puff pastry ($6.90)
tiny fish, dried shrimp, crab roe fried rice ($14)
goose intestine and pickled tuber chow fun ($18)

We got there at exactly 9 AM, when it opened - there was already a scrum to get in, but everyone who was there at 9 got seated - I think I saw open tables until about 9:30.

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  1. Good to know about the crab. The wateriness is what usually makes me not appreciate it so much no matter how fresh.

    -----
    Koi Palace Restaurant
    365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

    1. Thanks for the terrific report. When have you and watery Dungeness crab? Usually, it isn't watery unless it's pre-cooked and held too long in fridge (or frozen).

      1 Reply
      1. re: Claudette

        I find steamed and boiled Dungeness crab too watery - even when they're alive seconds before cooking - it's not that there's water in the shell, outside the flesh, it's the sensation of wateriness in the flesh itself. Like rworange, I'm an East Coast girl, raised on the denser texture of lobster, and the sponginess of Dungeness crab (when boiled and steamed) is unappealing to me. However, I really enjoy it roasted (and now, deep-fried).

      2. Thanks for the report. I haven't been yet either, mainly cause I've been thinking "Eh, the other places are good enough, why bother...." But you have convinced me and I am going to go soon!

        Dave MP

        1. Thanks for the report. I do have to say, that while I have absolutely loved dinner at Koi Palace (best scallops I ever ate in my life, among other things!), my one visit for dim sum about six months ago was very disappointing. Like you, we arrived right at opening and were promptly seated. We ordered about half from what came by, and about half from items off of the check off menu . The dishes we ordered from the check off menu took FOOOOREEVERR to come, with large gaps of ten or even up to fifteen minutes with nothing at all to eat in between items. While I don't remember the specifics of what I ordered, none of it was that exciting or worth the wait.

          How long were you there?

          I did notice that some other tables appeared to be getting better service, in the sense that more cart items came to them and never made it to us despite my attempts to waive them over (I felt a bit invisible), and that what did come over seemed to be a repeat of the same items over and over, and that other tables' ordered items seemed to get to them faster (I watched another couple at a table near us, who were seated exactly when we were, order from the check off menu, and never had an empty table with nothing to eat). I wasn't sure if I was getting the 'white girl's treatment' or if we just had an inept server...(I realize that to some extent they may wait till there are enough orders of an item before making it...but to order four check off dishes and not get them all within an hour and a half seems just plain excessive. We were there almost two hours and didn't eat all that much, even left a bit hungry, as I would have ordered more were it not for the delays. You'd think they'd want to turn the tables faster than that.)

          Well, as you can see, I wasn't at all satisfied with either food or service (and was very surprised, given how much I have liked dinners there.). As we were leaving another hound who is a regular poster was seated next to us; I asked him later and he also reported disappointment with the food, though I don't think he ever reported on the experience.

          We didn't have crab though (wasn't in season). That crab does sound good, and maybe I have to give it another shot.

          I look forward to other reports.

          8 Replies
          1. re: susancinsf

            "'white girl's treatment'" I'm EXTREMELY hesitant to play that card, but have experienced something similar far too often to discount its possibility, I esp. am vexed by dumbed down menus. at dim sum the best trick is to insist on sitting near the kitchen. and be bold.

            1. re: hill food

              "White girl's treatment" - interesting. Where we eat, there are so few white people in attendance (my white hubby always takes count) and they don't seem to be singled out. However, I've also noticed that a particualr Chinese restaurant will automatically bring forks over if we have a white person in our party, so they seem to paying attention.

              Were you an all-female table? I seem to get more discrimination for being female than for being ethnic, the times that I've noticed...

              1. re: Claudette

                I am not saying I know that is what happened: just saying that given that most if not all of the surrounding tables to us were Asian, and appeared to be getting faster, better service, that the thought did cross my mind...but no, it wasn't an all girls table: I was with hubby. The couple I mentioned near us were quite a bit older, so I suppose age could have been a factor, not that I am young or anything like that (both hubby and I are over fifty).

                But the biggest point here to me: had the food been great (which I was expecting since my dinners there have been great) I might have been a bit cranky about slow service but it wouldn't have kept me from coming back. However, unlike Daveena, nothing stood out as all that great, and under those circumstances I can think of a lot of other dim sum places where I have gotten good food and better service. (It doesn't have to be lightning fast, but I have never, anywhere experienced a dim sum eating experience where I went 15 minutes with no food on my plate once I ordered and no carts coming by other than ones with dishes I have already seen or ordered. And I have certainly eaten my share of dim sum.)

                By the way, I was seated near the kitchen and my friends can tell you that I am not shy when it comes to asking for what I want (in reference to 'being bold').

                1. re: susancinsf

                  It's a dog-eat-dog world at a dim sum restaurant, and yeah, I'm sure there might be some slight discrimination to the non-Chinese crowd, but restaurants like Koi Palace have so many non-Chinese people tasting their treats that they're pretty much used to the mix crowd.

                  My tip is to be really aggressive in ordering. Here are some things I do at a dim sum restaurant:

                  1) If I don't see something I want in the trays that come by, I ask for it. If they say someone else has it, I ask them to ask that person to swing by.

                  2) If I don't get what I ordered on the sheet any time soon, I ask the waiter. Not the bus boy or the women steering the carts, but the person that's usually dressed more formally and is the one that cashes you out at the end of the meal. If asking him or her doesn't get any response, I ask another person dressed formally. I make it a team effort.

                  3) I make friends with the women steering over. So after asking them what they have, I might joke about the crowds or their shift or what the cook might be doing that day. If I'm friendly with one, then hopefully she'll come back with different selections or send some of her friends over.

                  I can't say any of the above always works, but it's worth giving it a try. I actually haven't had any issues when I've eaten at Koi Palace, but it's been awhile.

                  1. re: singleguychef

                    I've was in some place (can't recall the name) where patrons actually stood at the kitchen door and hovered in wait for their choice dish. (I joined in once...)

                    1. re: hill food

                      I've never hovered by the kitchen door, but on a few frustrated occasions I've walked over to another cart to ask for something. I don't think they like that, so I just stick to my pestering from the table. ;-)

                    2. re: singleguychef

                      I did ask the server (NOT the cart people) where our orders (checked off) were. IIRC, more than once; was told 'they are coming right out'. but no.....I will admit that I did not stand up and walk across the room and say, 'can you bring that cart to the table over there, please?'...

                      so yes, while I guess it really is dog eat dog, but again, my bigger point was really that the poor service was not offset by really good food. If it had been, I would have been much more tolerant of the delays. but bottom line: it wasn't all that, and under those circumstances I can think of plenty of places where I have had dim sum just as good or better, (Yank Sing, Gold Mountain, Kan's and HKFL all come immediately to mind, just to name four places with very different styles...) without having to stake out the kitchen or get out of my chair to flag down a cart....

                      all that said, I do intend to try it again one of these days....they do such a good job with seafood in the evening that I am willing to be convinced that I hit a bad day or ordered wrong, at least as far as the quality of the food goes. I will NOT have high expectations when it comes to service, however.

              2. re: susancinsf

                Hi Susan - that's really disappointing that you weren't getting the same service as the other tables. We were there for about an hour and a half, without significant gaps between dishes (except maybe at the very beginning, while we were waiting for or ordered dishes - we had to exert a lot of willpower not to take stuff from the circulating servers, because we knew we'd ordered so much stuff off the list), Most of the dishes from the check-off list arrived within half an hour of each other.

                Anyway, I hope you do give it another chance (and I hope you get better service next time).

              3. Your experience there was better than any of my multiple visits. My main complaint is that the rice wrappers around dumplings seem oversteamed to the point that it's impossible to lift the dumplings out of the basket without them tearing since the wrapper has become gummy and sticks to the dish. I've experienced this on multiple visits across a range of dumpling types. You had a sticking-together gripe with the scallop and mustard green dumplings -- was that also a problem with any other rice-wrapper dumplings you tried?

                2 Replies
                1. re: david kaplan

                  The only other dumpling we ordered that had a rice wrapper was the har gaw topped with dried oyster, and those came in individual foil "cupcake wrappers". The rest were wheat wrappers... actually, now that I look over my report again, we didn't really get that many dumplings. I was really targeting dishes I'd never seen before, and with only 3 people, I had to limit my ordering.

                  1. re: david kaplan

                    I actually think the wrappers are another Koi Palace strength. They are the right elasticity and chew and have never been oversteamed in my dozen or so visits. They firm up even more if you let them cool off a bit (something that rarely happens in my experience).

                    The key is not to sit in the back by the bar. The good stuff is long gone by then. Your proximity to the kitchen dictates your experience and your likelihood of getting the rare stuff. There are lots of specialty dumplings that come from the kitchen via server that aren't on the check off menu. I'm pretty aggressive with my ordering and will keep an eye on every server that comes out of the kitchen. If it's something I like, I will engage them with some serious intent. Sometimes I feign a standing up motion so they know just how serious I am.