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Best Chinese Banquet-Style food in SF Area

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My parents' 50th wedding anniversary is coming up later this month, and they want to celebrate with a great Chinese dinner. Cost is no object (they want shark's fin soup, etc), and it would be for one table of 8, so it's not a banquet per se, but we'd like banquet type food.

We have a slight preference to stay within the SF city border, but if the food is definitely better, we would definitely be willing to venture to the Millbrae and Daly City areas. We would definitely want to go to a restaurant that takes reservations, as we don't want to wait for a table.

On the "usual suspects" list in SF I have R&G, Great Eastern, and South Sea Seafood Village. South of SF I have Fook Yuen, Koi Palace, The Kitchen, and Mayflower (former HK Flower Lounge?). I haven't been to any of these places for at least a year or more, so I'd like to know what the current opinions area. And if there are some "must have" special dishes, please let me know. I'm not looking for great value, I'm looking for great food! And, hopefully, a decent atmosphere.

Thanks!

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  1. In the city it's definitely R&G. Outside I'd rate Koi Palace as #1 (they'd love you if you order shark fin, etc.). Fook Yuen has gone down hill. The Kitchen is excellent, although I have heard rumblings about service problems. The place can also use a little spiffy up. You may also want to consider Zen in Millbrae.

    1. Here's a recent Koi Palace review with BJOTW and shark fin.
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/559198

      1. I think Koi is still it if price isn't an issue and it's about the food. OTOH, you might get friendlier service/set-up and a more intimate space somewhere else. I agree, R&G, upstairs, is the nicest place in SF.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          It's funny, I think the last time I was at KP was a few years ago for another dinner w/my parents where we had the BJOTW. It was good, but honestly, I don't know what the fuss is all about. It's kind of like they throw in everything that is 1) expensive and 2) has some perceived medicinal/health value, cook it for hours, and voila! My dad did enjoy it though.

          What we didn't enjoy was being seated at a lousy table and sitting on folding chairs. I don't expect great ambiance at a Chinese restaurant, I'll settle for decent and clean, but sitting on folding chairs when you're spending big $$s for Chinese food is plain tacky.

          BTW, I called KP and they said I could reserve a private room for one table, but the minimum is $800. On their website, they don't even have a banquet menu for $800, so I have no idea how they come up with that "minimum". Should I request a table near the bar in the back as Melanie suggests?

          1. re: rcinsf

            $800? Wow...that's a lot. I think R&G is half of that but not sure if you can get BJOTW. Any way, whatever places makes the parents happy is probably the best choice.

            1. re: rcinsf

              It's easy to spend $800 if you order the $88 per person Japanese abalone set for everyone and then add special teas and alcohol on top of that. You might as well take it in food and drink then have to pay the difference as a service charge for use of the room. Has anyone tried a private room at KP? Hopefully it's quieter, as the main dining room is noisy, especially on a weekend.

          2. Koi Palace, hands down.. It's 20 minutes out of the City, but orders of magnitude above anything in the City. One must is roast suckling pig.

            In the City, I prefer Great Eastern over R&G because they are more consistent across the menu and across time. At R&G you may get one great dish and then one clinker. Or a dish that's great one day may be mishandled another day. They've even been known to muff their signature dish (pepper-salt crab). It happened to me once. At Great Eastern you really don't have to "cherry pick" the menu.

            But go to KP. It's not as expensive as some people seem to think. It's cheap enough that I got the cheapskate company I used to work for to hold my retirement banquet there. Koi's banquets run from $278 to $688. With eight, you might as well order a banquet and have more leftovers to take home.

            http://www.koipalace.com/party/bmenu....

            1. I'll join the crowd and vote for Koi Palace, which I'm sure doesn't add anything for you. My second place vote, though, goes to Zen Peninsula. And definitely Fook Yuen is one of those places that has passed its prime.

              1. It looks like KP is the "consensus" pick. I don't think we'll do the private room since we probably won't order the special abalone banquet and aren't big drinkers. I just hope we get a decent table. And maybe we'll do dinner another night at Great Eastern since I haven't been there in years and it sounds like the food is good. Since no one mentioned South Sea Seafood Village I assume it's not on the same level as R&G and Great Eastern.

                Thanks for the 411!

                1. Has anyone eaten at Louie's recently?

                  -----
                  Louie's California Chinese
                  646 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94111-2106

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Maybe we should have another chowdown there -- it's fallen off the radar in the last few years.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Here is a recent report from Steve Timko

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/552828

                      I have been there for lunch a couple of months ago but it was not a special order meal. Just something very simple.

                      In the past you have to pick and chose your self the menu. The chef does many dishes well and some great, but you have to know what he does well.

                    2. It's been a few years since i was there, and I may even have the name wrong, but I believe the Empress of China (the place that you get into an elevator to get to) had a nice banquet-type menu. I know it had great service; I'm not competent enough to speak to the quality of the food. But it did have a wonderful view.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                        Empress of China used to be one of the places to be back in the 80s-90s, before Koi Palace and all the places in Millbrae/SM and others started popping up. A reason they were so popular was because they were big enough to hold large parties.

                      2. I had quite dreadful dim sum at Mayflower recently, which was disappointing after fond memories of years ago.

                        At 10:30, it was full, chaotic, we were crowded in by the tanks and stacked chairs for half an hour's wait. Even after being seated, nothing was done to accommodate two children under 2 (we asked repeatedly for a high chair). Only trays on the weekend. I'm trying to remember any of the decent dishes but failing. Not expensive, but not good.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Windy

                          I've heard that the owners of Mayflower wanted to get out of the City after they bough HKFL in Millbrae. They may not be giving Mayflower their full attention.

                        2. No one mentioned East Ocean in Emeryville! I have to confess we haven't been there in a year but we had our wedding banquet there and it was so good that my cousin had hers there too. Also, beautiful dining room with view of SF.

                          By the way, I know shark fin is still considered by the old school Chinese to "make" a good banquet but it's really not ecologically thoughtful to eat it -- the farming of the shark fins is quite a horrific industry and sharks are becoming an endangered species (probably another reason Chinese love to eat it). At my banquet we had seafood tofu soup instead and personally I thought it was more flavorful.

                          1. Just wanted to report back on our dining experience at KP. Overall, the dinner was just ok. We ended up ordering a la carte since we had only 6 adults and 2 children. We did not order any dishes in advance, so we had to "settle" for the standard shark's fin soup. At $30 per bowl ($180 for six) it left a lot to be desired. While there was a good amount of shark's fin in each bowl, the soup base had very little flavor, and the addition of vinegar and pepper did little to enhance the flavor. If I hadn't known the cost, I wouldn't have finished my serving. The peking duck two ways was ok; most of us thought it was rather greasy. We also had the boiled shrimp, which my parents liked, although I thought the shrimp were so small that it wasn't worth the effort to peel each one for a tiny bite. The steamed fish was a bit overcooked, and the meat was "coarse", not delicate, for whatever reason. We guessed that the fish was rock cod or something similar. The waiter recommended the "coffee" spare ribs, which were a specialty of the house. While they were a bit different, they certainly were nothing to get excited about.

                            The only real highlight was the abalone, which was very tasty and tender. At $36 per serving, it certainly should be something to remember, and it was.

                            Overall, it was not the meal I had hoped it would be. I doubt I will return, but I'm sure KP won't mind. Even in this recession, the place was packed.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: rcinsf

                              How disappointing, esp at that price point. I've been following this thread with interest, although looking for a more modest meal.

                              My cousins agreed to a Chinese banquet for Christmas, and I offered three suggestions within their parameters. Koi Palace was one of the options until I realized how stressed I felt even considering it. The food, while occasionally stellar, has always been erratic, coupled with service problems, noise, and two toddlers...

                              We ended up at Kirin out on Geary, a homey, unpretentious place I first went for Limsterfest six years ago. Six adults and two toddlers shared the $238 meal with lots of leftovers.

                              Highlights for me were the same as then--a mountain of rainbow raw fish salad and chicken stuffed with sticky rice. Bitter melon soup made quite an appearance in a giant steaming melon; it was mild but soothing, enough to feed a small village. Minced squab in lettuce cups (or lettuce sandwiches, as we told the babies) was tasty and crunchy, although I prefer seafood. Bok choy with black mushrooms was glorious.

                              Peking duck was not a great rendition, except the buns kept the twins happy. We swapped out a whole fish for Dungeness crab noodles, which everyone else liked more than I did (huge and flavorful but a little mushy). Overall, a very successful night out for $300.

                              You could certainly order a la carte instead or get less food than we did. The selling point of the banquet menu was a significant savings in time and decision making. Once we sat down, food started arriving. We were not the only family with small children taking advantage of this.

                              Service was wonderful, clearing plates, bringing chilled glasses for wine, noticing I was cutting mushrooms with a spoon to share with my cousins and bringing a knife, unasked. When we discussed my aunt's allergy to scallops, our server brought her a cup of the house soup with tofu instead.

                              BTW The other option we'd considered was R&G. But the emphasis on seafood with my aunt's restrictions and more formal setting are probably best enjoyed without so much family pressure.

                              1. re: Windy

                                Thanks for the report back! I've not been to Kirin, but the fish salad sounds great. Did you order this banquet in advance, or when you arrived? (I am particularly wondering if the chicken stuffed with sticky rice must be ordered in advanace there).

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  Normally the stuffed boneless chicken is ordered ahead (24 hours ahead). A great dish on a winter night. We had one for Christmas Eve dinner.

                                  Good luck in getting one.

                                2. re: Windy

                                  Kirin is very good. It fills a nice niche. Less formal as you mention, basic but clean environment and the food is prepared very well. I don't recall one bad dish from going in Feb. I think it doesn't get as much mention because of the location and it's not a splashy dim sum emporium type place. The only big downer is that parking can be a major hassle.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    For what it's worth, we got one parking spot in front and one across the street. Of course it was 5 p.m.--much easier than 7:30.

                                    We did order the banquet ahead. I think the chicken stuffed with sticky rice is a pre-order. One day maybe Yimster will tell us how they get the bones out and then put it back together in one piece.

                                    The rainbow fish salad along with a rainbow chicken salad are on the regular menu.

                                    ML have you had other vegetables at Kirin? The bok choy and black mushrooms was so good, I regretted not ordering others.

                                    BTW the place was packed by the time we left.

                                    -----
                                    Kirin
                                    6135 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                                    1. re: Windy

                                      I don't recall what we ordered for veggies..I think snow pea shoots and something else. I just remember all the dishes were very even, i.e., not the usual drop-off of one or two mediocre dishes. We had the stuffed chicken...not a fan personally, not into sticky rice.

                                      Yeah, the place definitely gets packed. The people loitering at the door waiting for a table can get annoying if you're seated there but it is a clue the place is good. Jumbo on Noriega use to have that kind of "door rush" 10 or so years ago.

                                      1. re: Windy

                                        I have seen this done in the past for people who write for a living and no one yet has been able to write it down. So it not a dish for beginners and not easy for well seasoned cookers. If it was easy it would be in more places.

                                        Most time people just want to eat it not make it.. Lot time learning how to make. I am not saying I can make this dish. I ate out on Christmas Eve.

                                        By the way if I admit that I could I would be swamped with requests and I am retired from cooking.

                                  2. re: rcinsf

                                    link

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

                                  3. Koi Palace is very good, but I don't think it's the best banquet place for an event such as this. The noise level gets to be so high, it may be a distraction.
                                    Mayflower and Fook Yuen have gone down hill, they're not horrible, but you can find better just further down El Camino.
                                    I would highly recommend Asian Pearl (same owners of the Kitchen, just a little nicer). My sister had her wedding rehearsal dinner there and the banquet food and service were excellent. They have a private area but is limited to no more than 40 people I believe. If it exceeds 40, you will be on the main floor, but the staff will use standing blinds to section off your party.
                                    Another choice is Zen Peninsula. I've had great experiences with their dim sum and dinners.
                                    If you have the time, try out Zen and Asian Pearl and see if it suits your tastes and expectations. Otherwise, you really can't go wrong with the suggestions already made by the other Chowhounds.