In 1996 I had a meal that changed my view of dim sum. I had grown up eating the typical, run of the mill stuff back home in Honolulu, siu mai, char siu bao, blah, blah, blah.....I was in San Francisco, had a car, and decided to visit this new (at that time) Chinese Restaurant that was supposed to be "possibly" the best in the country. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But I'll say this much, that visit to Koi Palace changed the way I looked at dim sum, in terms of quality, flavor, and how things were put together. I'd longed to return. In fact, I once mentioned Koi Palace to a supposed "foodie", who looked at me, laughed, and said, you're "the only person I know who wants to go to Daly City and eat"....such was the depth and breath of much of San Diego when I arrived here in 2001. Gladly, much has changed since then.....and so have I. So when we made plans for this little road trip, I really wanted to see Koi Palace circa 2013. I also wanted to share that experience with the Missus.
We arrived just before opening. Folks were already milling around just inside the door. When they started seating, all the "Popo's" pushed to the front of the crowd....it was chaos; though controlled chaos, as the host had kept track of who was in line and ignored the folks who cut in front of the line.
17, almost 18 years, is a lot of water under the bridge, and I have to say the place really shows its age; dark, somewhat dank, scuffed tables...well, I felt right at home. The Missus on the other hand, "the best dim sum in the states, huh?"
We started things off with the Steamed Shrimp Dumpling with XO Sauce:
In many ways this was just perfect; the shrimp plump, full of flavor, steamed to perfection, the XO sauce added that wonderful, deep savory flavor....the much over-used "umami". My biggest problem with this were the wrappers, too thick, too sticky, and falling to pieces when you picked it up with chopsticks....the juices leaked onto the table....of course, this is Koi Palace, so they just placed the next dish right on the oil slick.
I have a rule, "never order Xiao Long Bao at a Cantonese Dim Sum chop", but I broke that rule after seeing Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao on the menu. And I'm glad I did.
This was very good. The dough was just chewy enough, the filling had a wonderful balance of sweetness, which wasn'y cloying, along with pork tones. There was enough "soup" to keep me happy. And yes, you definitely could taste the crab in this. I'm glad we ordered it.
We also ordered the Seafood Pan Fried Noodles, which was good, but not great.
The cooking technique of the seafood was excellent....down to the the oft mishandled squid which was very tender. The sauce/gravy was really bland and there was too little of it and some parts of the noodles were hard instead of crisp.
The Turnip Cakes were average.
The texture was too gummy, like too much flour was used. Not much flavor; I think we make better at home, though that XO sauce that came with it was killer......
The other dish that was "killer", though not in a good way was the Cheong Fun with Fried Fish Filet. It sounded like a good idea, but was a mistake in retrospect.
I've noticed this fad recently, especially at Sichuan Restaurants where fish filets are being coated with a sweet flour, that reminds me of artificially sweet cake mix. It's not a pleasant flavor to us and this was no exception. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed that. The sauce(balanced salty and sweet) and the rice flour roll(thin and of perfect texture) were excellent, but that fish and the batter was just not our thing.
Things ended on a high note though, as you can see.
This wonderful example of porky beauty is the Koi Palace Suckling Pig. It ain't cheap at $18, but I'd pay that much just for the skin, which was just spot on, perfect in texture....light, crisp, swiney deliciousness. The meat itself was on the chewy side, but the pork flavor was just so good. I hadn't eaten swine so good since we got back from Pork-u-all, ummm Portugal. This is the real deal.....
I think the place needs to be freshened up a bit, that carpet looks like it hasn't been cleaned since 1996. Perhaps more effort goes into their other location(s).The service was pretty good, efficient, non-intrusive......
As to what the Missus thought about Koi Palace, "I expected more, I think Sea Harbour in Rosemead is better...." I read some time ago that Jonathan Gold was of the opinion that Koi Palace was the best "Hong Kong style restaurant in the US".....or something like that. Personally, I'm not so sure.....but that suckling pig was really good....
But in response to the person who made that remark about Daly City all those years ago, "yes, Daly City is a great spot to find good eats; just ask the hundreds of thousands who've been to Koi Palace."
365 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015