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Mar 18, 2010 07:54 PM

Dim Sum Crawl – Koi Palace and Asian Pearl (Peninsula)

Pia, Cynthia and I had dim sum today at Koi Palace and Asian Pearl. I eagerly anticipated my first visit to both places and was especially eager to see if Koi Palace was really a level above the competition as suggested by some hounds.

At Koi Palace we had—

#157 Roasted Suckling Pig
#321 Shiu Mai with Diced Mushroom
#337 Bee’s Nest Taro
#341 Har Gow
#376 Coffee Glazed Pork Sparerib

With only three of us it wasn’t practical to order the much-heralded Crab Meat Filled Dumpling w/ Whole Crab. The steamed XO diced mushroom and pork dumplings praised in prior posts were not available today (or even on the menu). They are not the same as the XO Spicy Sauce Dumplings.

The shiu mai had a thin side wrapper and very good flavor— even better than the version that was one of my favorites at the now-defunct Joy Luck Place.

The har gow had a fairly thick and soft skin. Most of the shrimp was whole and too big to allow a tight wrapping with an even shape and they fell apart easily. The flavor was nice but a bit too subtle for my taste.

The suckling pig had very crisp skin and great flavor.

The bee’s nest taro was light, fluffy and virtually greaseless. The flavor was very good but the puffs were really small and didn’t fully satisfy my taro craving. I’m not sure if the taro ratio was lower than in most other taro balls or if I just didn’t get enough volume. They were very good regardless.

The coffee glazed pork sparerib came in a coffee cup with large pieces of pork in a coffee sauce with some whipped cream. It was entertaining but my piece of pork was mostly fat.

I am used to lighter, greener tea with dim sum than the pu-erh tea that Cynthia ordered for us. I have now been converted to darker tea—it seemed a better balance to the intense flavors.

Overall for me Koi Palace provided some really good dim sum but I didn’t feel I had experienced a meal that was at a clearly higher level than the best of the rest. Since we didn’t have the whole crab in dumplings or some of the other signature dishes I can’t really judge yet. Even without those it compares well.

My KP experience was much better in other respects than I expected. Some posts have implied that only regulars get decent service. My prior efforts to get friends to go to KP have resulted in depictions of a madhouse with interminable waits and poor service. Maybe that’s a good description of weekends but we got seated immediately in a soothing environment with prompt service. Not having a Chinese speaker in attendance was not a problem and our waiter was available to answer questions and make suggestions. The order form is a colorful menu with English descriptions and pictures of many of the dishes.

Though I usually prefer rooms with lots of natural light, the highly decorated room was a pleasing oasis of calm today. Extra touches like a flame under the teapot to keep your tea warm added to the feeling of quality. My one gripe with the high style was the pretty but tiny condiment dish which could only hold puny quantities.

At Asian Pearl we had—

#1 Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (har gow)
#3 Steamed Egg Custard Bun
#15 Shrimp and Chive Dumpling
#33 Beef Rice Noodle Roll
#58 BBQ Pork Neck
Durian Custard Rolls (not on menu)

The har gow was mostly whole shrimp in a thinner skin which held together better than at Koi Palace. It was sweeter with more intense flavors. I suspect a more sophisticated palate might find the sweetness and intensity a bit over the top but I loved it (especially with mustard). This was my favorite savory dish here.

The shrimp and chive dumpling was good and very similar to what I have had elsewhere.

Though I usually prefer meat other than beef in my dim sum, the beef rice noodle roll had good flavor and that nice slippery silky rice roll texture.

The BBQ pork neck was a bit too fat and oily for me.

The durian custard rolls had a flaky crust and a nice creamy texture and flavor. I wasn't overpowered by the durian, which pleased me but might disappoint a real fan of durian.

My favorite here was the steamed egg and custard bun. It tastes just like it sounds.

All in all, it was a very satisfying dim sum crawl— good food and good conversation. It’s hard to improve upon that! All we need now is a few more participants so we can go back for more variety and the bigger items like the whole crab.

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

Peninsula Asian Pearl
1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

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  1. The pu erh tea is supposed to cut the richness of some dim sum preparations. If you want to try a variation ...... many folks like the combination of pu-erh and chrysanthamum blossoms - gook boh - or something like that in Cantonese. The grease cutting qualities with a bit of floral lightness for balance.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      Gook Bo
      Gook Sau - a blend of Gook Fa and Sau Mei
      Sau Mei

      What are other recommendations or requests for teas?

      1. re: Cynsa

        Gook Bo is my favorite and normally I just have Sau Mei and do have add the Gook Fa. I like the taste of Sau Mei by itself is my opinion that as strong as Pu Erh which can get too strong by it self many times.

        If at Asian Pearl or Koi Palace you can ask your server if he has recommendation of something special in stock.

        Glad you all took on this quest of getting dim sum. Good hunting for the best available.

        Many latest favorite tea which was a gift from my Cousin in Hong Kong White

        Dragon Pearl Tea a form of white jasmine tea rolled into little balls.

        You should always ask if there are daily specials and what new dishes they have add recently. This has gotten a more great new dishes than misses. But I have been burnt on some not so good dishes too.

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

        Asian Pearl
        3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

    2. I've always ordered the whole Dungeness with 10 XLB for 3 people! Although, I did not then go and have a second dim sum meal afterwards.

      I think the special pork and mushroom dumpling is a weekend-only item.

      1. Wrote this on another post recently so thought I'd share. Here are the dim sum dishes that are decent in my opinion at Koi Palace:

        (1) #345 Steamed Daikon Cake $4.50
        (2) #347 Crispy Fried Dough Stuffed Rice Rolls $4.50
        (3) #352 Wild Mushroom Stuffed Filo Threads $4.50
        (4) #422 Pan Fried Pork Dumplings $4.50 for 4 pieces
        (5) #376 Coffee Glazed Pork Spareribs $6.90
        (6) $157 Roast Suckling Pig $18.00
        (8) #464 Sugar Egg Puff $4.50
        (9) #645 Baked Pork Chop Over Fried Rice HK Style $14.00

        The above dishes will feed 4-6 people so order fewer dishes if your party is smaller. (9) in particular is a decent rice dish (not dim sum) to cap off the savory part of your meal (i.e. after the dim sum but before dessert), but it's huge so you want to make sure you have room for it. That said, if you really want to try dim sum, it's probably a better idea to skip out on (9) and order more dim sum dishes.

        I would definitely recommend (3), (5), and (8), and think the rest are also okay. Just keep in mind that (6) is going to be a good size as well with 10-12 pieces of pork.

        Below are some dishes that are not bad for dinner:

        (1) #233 Mandolin Hand Roast Squab $15.00
        (2) #241 Crisp Chicken with Bean Sauce Dip $12.00 for half
        (3) #666 Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried in Sugar Wine Sauce $14.00
        (4) #505 Korean Style Beef Short Ribs $16.00
        (5) #849 Shanghai Style Crab (crab meat with fluffy egg white) $35.00

        I definitely recommend #5 (it's considered to be one of their signature dishes), and I pulled the # and description straight from their menu on the website.

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

        1. Koi Palace:
          #321 Shiu Mai with Diced Mushroom - this was the first dish to the table and in my haste to taste I forgot the photo.. delicious in flavors, juicy and a hint of sweetness, with a light thin wrap.
          #157 Roasted Suckling Pig - lovely crunch of skin and creamy pork on sweet beans
          #337 Bee’s Nest Taro - ethereal on the tongue, the creamy smooth taro melting into the lacy crunch
          #341 Har Gow - big shrimp is mouth-filling
          #376 Coffee Glazed Pork Sparerib - wow! that coffee flavored sauce is a total buzz both in fragrance and taste, the whipped cream melts on crispy-fried ribs that are sweet-but-not-too-sweet

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

          1. Peninsula Asian Pearl:
            #1 Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (har gow) - very nicely seasoned
            #3 Steamed Egg Custard Bun - hot, sweet, eggy = delightful
            #15 Shrimp and Chive Dumpling - big,bright and green chive+shrimp
            #33 Beef Rice Noodle Roll - hint of citrus - my fave -
            #58 BBQ Pork Neck - meaty goodness
            Durian Cream Horn (not on menu)

            Peninsula Asian Pearl
            1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

            12 Replies
            1. re: Cynsa

              We agreed that the har gow at Koi Palace shouted SHRIMP in capital letters; at Peninsula Asian Pearl, the flavors were a combination of subtle complexities to enjoy.
              The Steamed Egg Custard Bun is a simple pleasure of steamed dough filled with a lightly sweetened warmed egg custard and is a comforting pleasure to devour.
              The Shrimp and Chive Dumpling is a hefty green bomb of bold assertive flavor of chive and shrimp - I liked this, too.
              The BBQ Pork Neck is boneless; meaty and a generous portion. Did I even notice any fattiness - or, did I relish it?

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

              Peninsula Asian Pearl
              1671 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

              1. re: Cynsa

                Thank you for another beautifully writen post, Charlie! You are so darn good at this!

                The pork neck was very nicely marbled--there was almost a fatty crunch when biting into it. I remembered this dish as being a stand-out during my first visit to Asian Pearl a few years back with Yimster, who is much better at making himself understood and at choosing dishes. Too bad he has forsworn dimsum chowdowns for the time being. Let us hope he will change his mind and rejoin the fray. It will help avoid awkward moments like the one at Asian Pearl when we asked what was inside a particularly tempting, finely layered fried pastry was: the waiters asked the captain, and they all smiled and giggled at each other, but no one responded directly to us. We decided to be brave and go for it anyway. It was a delicious durian puff, and fortunately, the durian cream was nice and mellow.

                I found the suckling pig at Koi Palace this visit disappointing: all the other times I've had it there, the skin has been thinner and crisper. It was much coarser this time--perhaps the pig was bigger and the roasting not as skillful. The suckling pig at Champagne Seafood in San Mateo was actually much better, though the other dismsum items were unimpressive.

                It may be a new trend, but the hargow in both places had virtually no minced shrimp to speak of. I prefer my hargow ro be bite-sized orbs of minced shrimp holding nice chunks of shrimp. Showing us nothing but whole shrimp may allay concerns about the quality of the shrimp, but it doesn't make for hargow as I was taught hargow should be.

                Everything we had was good, though my favorites were the flavorful, translucently wrapped beef cheung fan at Asian Pearl and the delicate, greaseless taro puff at Koi Palace.

                Which place do I prefer? Well, there's much more choice at Koi Palace, but I'd have to go very early, even on a weekday. But as far as taste and quality go, Asian Pearl seems to be in the same league. More chowdowns will help decide the matter--assuming such a decision is necessary in the first place.

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

                Asian Pearl
                3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                1. re: pilinut

                  Sorry dim sum is still not on my list of things I should be eating. Doctor's orders. It helps if you can speak Chinese when ordering.

                  1. re: yimster

                    Two other dishes that I'd recommend (but that might not be on the menu) are:

                    (1) Snow mountain bun filled with almond cream - not sure if this is the official name, but this is what the dim sum dish is called elsewhere. It's a dessert item that's structurally similar to the Japanese melonpan, Mexican pan dulce, and HK pineapple bun, but filled with a fragrant almond ganache-like cream. The first time I had it at Koi Palace it was pretty bad, but I had it again recently and it was fairly well made. Still not as good as what they do in HK but at least comparable.

                    (2) Pan-fried vermicelli with sauteed butterflied prawns in pumpkin sauce - the noodles are shaped into a round disc (think roti or pizza) and pan-fried on one side so it's really crispy. Then they add these tiger prawns on top and finish the dish with a pumpkin sauce that's rich and full of flavor like a demi glaze.

                    1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                      Hong Kong Saigon Seafood Harbor in Sunnyvale offers a very similar variant to the "snow mountain" bun, but the flavoring is taro rather than almond cream. It's a horrible mess to eat and I think the captain called it snow flower bun. It's arguably the top selling item over there as they disappear very quickly once it hits the floors. While it absolutely did not floor me whatsoever, I do applaud the effort to make something unique.

                      1. re: K K

                        Thanks, KK! Saigon Seafood is deifinitely on the radar. Can you suggest any other dimsum places nearby so we don't have to go so far for our second round? And what else should we try?

                        Saigon Seafood
                        740 Story Rd 1, San Jose, CA

                        1. re: pilinut

                          Here is a couple newer places. Causeway Bay in the old Chef Wai site and South Sea recently opened on El Camino Real just north of Hong Kong Flower, how quickly I forgot the old name.

                          Not been to South Sea but have been to Causeway Bay when it first open between Doctor visits.

                      2. re: hong_kong_foodie

                        Thanks for letting us know what's new and interesting out there! While hargow is my acid test for a dimsum place, a lot of the fun is in seeing how creative the chef can get. We're planning another visit to Koi, though with more people, so we can order the larger plates, and maybe to Asian Pearl as well, though there did not seem to be nearly as much choice at Asian Pearl on a weekday as on a weekend.

                        Asian Pearl
                        3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                        1. re: pilinut

                          The snow mountain bun is a recent addition to the dim sum scene in the bay area, but by no means is it original since (1) a ton of places from Vancouver to LA have been carrying it for a while and (2) it is super popular in HK where it was created.

                          I haven't been back to Saigon Seafood for years since I think the dim sum is mediocre at best (then again that's my opinion on almost all the Chinese food in the bay area), but the snow mountain bun at Koi Palace is pretty easy/clean to eat, just like it is in HK.

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

                          1. re: pilinut

                            If you want to put a dim sum place through its paces, you should really go on a weekend. Asian Pearl on the weekends has a mango mochi stuffed with pieces of mango and dusted with coconut that is quite tasty. I am also a fan of their cabbage rolls stuffed with crab and shrimp. Zen Peninsula is another place near Asian Pearl with interesting items.

                            Zen Peninsula
                            1180 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030

                            Asian Pearl
                            3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                            1. re: sfbing

                              Yep agreed with sfbing and hkf, as their comments are spot on.

                              Weekends are typically when the good dim sum places bring out the entire lineup, although at the same time it is the worst time to go. ABC in Foster City does the same thing... checklist with hardly to no push carts on weekdays, and on weekends it's a mish mash of both plus specials not available on weekdays. Unfortunately ABC is so inconsistent of late that you have to be lucky to catch them on a good weekday or weekend. Last 3 visits were average to sub-par, and the 3 visits before that superb (over the course of a year). I'm sure it is somewhat similar to the other places.

                              I wouldn't recommend HK Saigon Seafood Harbor in Sunnyvale especially if you live on the upper Peninsula. While it is considered one of the better South Bay dim sum places, it is rather unrefined compared to KP and the Millbrae/San Bruno joints.

                              I think Champagne in San Mateo (Joy Luck Place's replacement) has potential (even though they try to clone and spin themselves as a Koi Palace type), but only if they continually improve. It sounds like they have since they've opened, but they still have more to work on.

                              With the Peninsula (upper and lower) good dim sum places, "new and innovative" dim sum pretty much falls under two categories... 1) fusion or 2) revival of old school classics (which appears new to a lot of folks). Fusion can be something like foie gras cheung fun/siu mai, dishes with pumpkin, or even the coffee spare ribs thing. Old school can be herbal stewed chicken feet (e.g. the version at ABC Foster City), black bean sauce steamed fish head (e.g. defunct Seafood Harbor in Millbrae).

                              Any comments on Tai Wu Daly City? Last year I read about ads trying to upsell lobster gow (instead of ha gow), abalone siu mai at silly prices. While this stuff sells easily at the upscale hotels in Hong Kong and certain restaurants, I'm not so sure about here.

                              1. re: K K

                                Tai Wu is a upscale Mr Fong's (late of Foster City). I have had their Lobster gow only half lobster meat (the rest is shrimp. It was real good. Also they have a petty good group of upgrade dim sum and dinner set dinner menu's. Have had a couple of family dinner there in recent months.

                                Loved Mr. Fongs food when it was in Foster City. Our sons grew up eating there. Will have go again soon. Have a few family group dinner coming up soon.