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Oct 31, 2009 04:20 PM

Pinole: King Valley Tea House - Delicious dim sum at reasonable prices.

At the entrance there are tanks of live fish and a section with bbq ducks and meat hanging over a counter. Dim sum carts roll by replenished by runners from the kitchen adding bamboo baskets of steamed dumplings and buns.

The portions were generous and the food well-prepared. For $31.22 (with tax) I had
- Shrimp and peppers
- Duck
- Clams in black bean sauce
- Shanghai dumplings
- Braised greens topped with fresh sliced ginger and mushrooms
- Steamed buns filled with egg custard
- House tea

I always thought I didn't like duck. Maybe I've never had good duck before. A dish that caught my eye and I thought was pork turned out to be duck ... and what duck it was ... crispy skin on a lovely layer of fat and silky meat covered with delicious sauce. The duck was on top of small slightly sweet beans.

The greens were fabulous as well ... bright green and in a broth they were a gingery goodness.

Another thing that usually underwhelms me is steamed buns. However, they looked so good with a pink dot on top and a few yellow dots here and there. Inside was one of the best custards I've ever had ... warm, sweet but deeply yellow it was not far from pure rich egg yolk.

A big bowl of clams had a nice sauce and onions and red and green peppers. The shrimp and Shanghai dumplings were also good.

I went on opening day and while some dishes such as the excellent sesame balls impressed me, there was so much wrong on that first visit I thought I'd never return.

Then I read that they changed the manager and worked out the opening kinks so I thought I'd give them another try ... after all the food was tasty for the most part on my first visit and the prices were good.

The staff is really working it now. The new manager is on top of everything. Ordering from carts is better than ordering from a menu. So many tasty things went by but I was too stuffed. All of the staff speaks English now and everyone was efficient and helpful. It's a busy place but at noon there were still some empty tables. By 1 when I left, the restaurant was full.

There is plenty of parking also.

I'm no dim sum expert, so you can take this FWIW

I'm looking forward to going back. My husband never had dim sum so I think he'd love it for his birthday in a few weeks.

King Valley Tea House
795 Fernandez Ave, Pinole, CA 94564

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  1. amazing turn around - what a difference a manager can make!

    1. Looking forward to giving it another go- thanks for the report!

      1. thanks for the update Orange - I was not really impressed when I took my aunt there for lunch but that was about a week after you initial post - will have to give it a try soon.

        1. Valuable update. Thanks.

          1. Haven't been on CH much lately, so thank you RW for starting the convo up again about KV. I've been there three times now - once for dim sum on a weekend morning, twice in the middle of the week for dinner - and never had bad service so I don't know what that was all about. The hostess was a bit curt on our first visit, but I think that's just how she speaks.

            The food. I personally don't like them for dinner because I found their food kind of bland - the eggplant with spicy garlic sauce was more sweet than anything, the hot & sour soup is vegetarian so doesn't have much depth of flavor, fried rice didn't taste like it had been made in a wok... For that genre of Chinese, I'd rather go to China House up the street for take out. For dim sum, I stopped by with 3 friends at 10:30 on a Sunday morning and had great service. We were sitting in the middle of the room and were approached by the 2-3 carts circulating at every pass. The different fillings were good although the skins fell apart a bit too easily. I would recommend the phoenix talons and don't be put off by the lighter color - the flavor is there - although you may have to request them as we did (and actually got a "wow" from the server). For the most part, the standards are all good, although not great and don't order anything with xo sauce. The glutinous rice balls with black sesame filling (which I think they call sesame mochi... odd) are probably the only thing that I would say is outstanding (and they will make them to order at night if you request them).

            Also, they advertise that they do bbq and I wouldn't advise having it in the evening as it is simply microwaved to order. I had some very dry bbq pork on my last visit.

            5 Replies
            1. re: adrienne156

              It made the Bargain Bites for Dim Sum in the Chron today - I had never heard of it. Any more reports since Nov 2?

              1. re: lmnopm

                I go there every couple of weeks for weekend dim sum because it is convenient and my friends and I enjoy it. Great buns (quality filling, fluffy dough), dumpling skins still fall apart too easily, but the color on the phoenix talons is improving. RW and the reviewer were very right about their greens - I like their gai lan especially. The last time I went there were two things I tried and loved - a fried sticky rice dish with some kind of dried seafood and this wonderful silken tofu in ginger water that is served from a giant pot that is wheeled around on a cart. The tofu is so delicate that it melts on your tongue and is incredibly comforting.

                1. re: adrienne156

                  silken tofu in ginger water that is served from a giant pot that is wheeled around on a cart.
                  One of my favorites dim sum offerings -- the name is "dofu fa."

                  1. re: adrienne156

                    I'm the only person who doesn't like it -- can someone explain the allure of the dish? Maybe if the tofu wasn't warm...

                    1. re: Sarah

                      Thanks, Ruth! They tend to use english names at KV that aren't always what I've seen in other dim sum restaurants which make things a little difficult... (We had a heck of a time ordering pak tong koh - just googled it to find the real name - as I've always seen it called sweetened rice cake)

                      Sarah - I'm actually the only one of our friends that really likes it. The allure... I think it's a texture thing for me and I happen to really love ginger. I think I might not like it if it were cold.