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Pinole: King Valley Tea House dim sum - A real winner ... for having the worst service of any Bay Area restaurant

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I would warn restaurants who want to call attention to themselves to be careful. You just might get it.

Some of the food was good. Some like the thin, watery pork and preserved egg porridge were so bad I couldn't finish it ...despite the fact I was starved because of the abysmal service. I'll stick to Daimo for porridge.

I COULD chalk this up to the fact that it was opening day. But mysteriously some tables had excellent service, the manager discussing menus with them, the trays of dim sum traveling direct from the kitchen to those tables. Why this is I can't say.

Despite my being seated right next to the kitchen, where the noise and confusion within became the background music of my meal, I was only able once to snag a waiter going by. At this point I had been in the restaurant one hour and served one order of shrimp and chive dumplings and a pot of tea.

It is not that I didn't mention my displeasure to many waiters, once asking for the manager. He looked at my table and walked in the other direction to sit down and chat with another table.

It was after being there about an hour and a half … I finally got the porridge … that I checked off two additional items on the menu and had this exchange with the waiter …

Me, pointing to the items I checked off on the menu "I'd like these two items"
Waiter: Mumbling something I didn't understand
Me: "Um, these two items"
Waiter: More mumbling
Me: These two items.
Waiter returns with the wrong dish insisting this is what I ordered.

So I had a meltdown. I demand that the manager get over to my table NOW. When I voiced my complaints and the reasons for them, in a tone close to yelling …it might say something for the noise level of the place that not even the closest table near me noticed. Actually I don't think the manager noticed.

So here's a positive. It is child-friendly. There were two wailing infants and one could barely hear them above the general din. Great breakup restaurant. Your date can make a scene and no one would notice. Take your employee who you are about to fire here for the bad news. No one will notice the weeping.

The manager's explanation was that it was opening day. Well, I KNEW that going in. I was prepared mentally to deal with lots of issues. This went above and beyond though

This is the third restaurant for these owners. They also own China Delights in Pinole and San Ramon. One would think that they would know how to open a restaurant by now ... third time's the charm and all that.

So if your idea of a good time is waiting two hours for dim sum with long, long ... long stretches in between ... this is your place. My recommendation is that when they set the wrong dish on the table (which they did four times), eat it. You might not get something else.

On the positive side, the dim sum is made to order. It just takes ... a while.

I can imagine them growing the wheat for the pork buns and grinding it to flour ... while you wait.

This is "order off the menu" dim sum for the most part though they do walk around with trays.

If you have not ordered dim sum from a menu, I was kindly given this advice for the next time. Order a few dishes. When finishing those, get another sheet and order the rest.

In a restaurant that makes dishes to order it is unlikely that all will come at once anyway. So since I ordered six dishes ... only five delivered .. an hour in they finally told me they weren't making pea shoot dumplings yet ... after multiple requests ... I should have ordered 3-4 first and the rest on a second round.

I did ask five people how to order but the response was either repeating my last words or saying "yes". This included the manager. English skills are minimal.

That brings up that it doesn't seem a specific waiter is assigned to a specific table. The servers circle the tables herd-like. So while I reported the missing pea shoot dumplings, I would hope that at least one said something to the kitchen. However, no one took responsibility for reporting back since they probably assumed someone else had.

What I tried

- Sesame balls (excellent)
- Shanghai dumplings (very good)
- Shrimp and chive dumplings (very good)
- Baked bbq pork buns (skip)
- Pork and preserved egg porridge (skip)

A nice pot of tea brewed from leaves comes with the food. For a charge of 80 cents per person, other teas may be ordered - pu--erh, jasmine, oolong, snumei, chrysanthemum.

Dim sum is served daily from 10 am to 2 pm. Prices are small ($2.50), medium ($3), large (3.80), extra large ($5.25), kitchen ($5.95)

There are also some dim sum items circulating on trays that are not on the printed menu of approximately 100 items.

The large menu for other items features some items such as
- Water chestnut cake for dessert
- Sauteed frog and clam in clay pot
- BBQ pork
- Roasted duck
- Crispy roasted pork
- Soy sauce chicken
- Chou Zhou style marinated platter
- Empress young chicken
- Braised goat stew with bean curd clay pot
- Boneless duck feet (what is it that would be left?)
- Honey glazed smoked sea bass
- Sea cucumber with greens
- Tri-color steamed eggs
- Fried Japanese tofu with special sauce
- Muly style chow fun

There are lots of frog preparations including one in lotus leaf.

There are also two menus entirely in Chinese. I hope someone will report back if these include items not on the English menu.

The sesame balls were really swell. An order of 3 ($2.50) were the right size, about that of a golf ball. The outside was shattering-crispy and inside was warm and soft.

Both dumplings had nice wrappers with tasty fillings. The Shanhai dumplings came with a very nice red dipping sauce. They said vinegar, but it was thicker and had a sour cherry taste to it.

The three small BBQ pork buns had a smidge of uninspiring filling and too much "only ok" bun. These were no Golden Gate Bakery buns.

There are not a lot of changes to the bank building except moving teller counters out and tables in. The light fixtures are the same. There is plenty of parking around the building

Lion Dances at 10 am on Sunday for the opening. I won't be there.

On Friday, I was willing to let them settle down and give them a second chance. Now on reflection of all that has happened, I won’t.

There are too many good restaurants where I can get decent service. I am just as close to the Ranch 99 restaurants as this one. I’ll take my business to the Ranch 99 area. Perhaps there will be enough of a customer base in Pinole to keep them going. Perhaps not.

They serve shark's fin soup for those interested in that.

King Valley Tea House
795 Fernandez Ave (in the old Mechanics Bank building across from the farmers market and church)
Pinole Ca 94564
(510) 724-1689

Daily 10 am - 9:30 pm Dim sum until 2 pm

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  1. I went on their second day- a relative happened to go on opening day and was raving about the good food and reasonable prices and wanted to go back. Being in Solano County, I figured it would be worth checking out to save a drive to Pacific East Mall or into the city. Part of our party was late arriving, so we didn't notice the delay in serving our table AT FIRST. We had grabbed a few steamer baskets off a passing cart upon first sitting down. At no point were we ever offered a menu and our requests for condiments (soy, hot mustard, and chili sauce) and drinks were ignored several times. I'd say it took at least an hour (and that's being generous) for us to get settled in and even then we were never informed that we should order our dim sum from a menu. Carts were sporadic and didn't seem to make a full round of the restaurant. Tables are packed in extremely closely. Servers seemed to hover (in multiples) over some tables and avoid others entirely. At one point, I ordered a bowl of hot tofu from a passing cart. The waitress started dishing it up, placed the filled bowl on the cart, disappeared for several minutes (leaving the cart still tableside), and then came back about 10 minutes later to hand me my tofu- strange. We eventually manged to get an order of delicious seafood chow fun, the dumplings WERE good- hargow, siu mai- and I LOVED a sweet rice dumpling covered in peanut dust and filled with sweet black sesame seed paste. I MIGHT give this place one more chance- maybe in a month or so to work out the kinks- and now I have a possibly better strategy for ordering, but if service is still as sorry- I'd say skip it- service so unattentive just isn't worth your time or business.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sweet ginger

      They have actual carts?

      With the trays it was difficult to determine if waiters were delivering orders or circling with dim sum.

      Yeah, some of the food was really good like those sesame balls. I hope they do work things out and somewhere up the line there are better reports.

    2. they serve dim sum from 10:00 to 3:00 everyday. and the phone number is 510-724-1668

      1. Previous review was written in 2009.....if you have returned to the King Valley in Pinole...Dispite the revews written before this one.......Management has changed, food is very flavorful and the service and very quick......If you want to eat a quick dim sum and not have to go to far and you're in the Hercules/Pinole Area.....Stick with King Valley.....you cannot go wrong....Don't take my word, go and try it out......This is a place that WILL stay, because its good.......