Koi Palace serves up a Chinese feast fit for royalty 

With its astonishing range of dishes, prices, cooking techniques and inventiveness, Koi Palace, the 400-seat dim sum and seafood house, never fails to amaze me. As the centerpiece of a Chinese New Year banquet I attended, the kitchen prepared a 10-pound, $480 Australian lobster three ways.

A couple of weeks later at dim sum, I made a meal out of an entire order of chicken feet in black bean sauce ($2.80) because they were so surprisingly delicious — and no one else at my table took one.

How can one restaurant do all of this?

The lobby of Koi Palace is a maze of bubbling tanks filled with sea creatures: a chorus line of swaying geoduck siphons, armored lobsters in camouflage shells, gigantic, spidery snow crabs that slide along the bottom, dancing spot shrimp that wave their antennae.

If you want to plan a banquet around succulent seafood, the Koi Palace aquarium is the place to start.

Our New Year’s meal for 11 kicked off with a whole suckling pig ($190), the lacquered skin cut into tiles that we lifted off the animal with chopsticks and tucked into steamed white buns with hoisin sauce and sugar.

Then the pig was whisked away, its gamey flesh to return sliced on a platter. Don’t expect the mild, white flesh of more mature animals.

The  Australian lobster flesh came first as opalescent sashimi, so naturally sweet; then in a pastel stir fry with snow peas in a sheer veil of flavorful sauce, its meaty legs in the shell, dusted with five spice-scented batter; and deep-fried, framing the platter.

The kitchen reprised the textures of the lobster in  a soft crabmeat dish delicately bound with egg whites and  topped with a raw egg yolk we mixed in. Deep-fried, salt-and-pepper crab legs surrounded the snowy mound.

We sipped double-rich chicken broth with conch and goji berries ($120); and cut with fork and knife the biggest scallops ($7 each) I have ever seen.

A whole kabocha squash with silken orange flesh was filled with braised oxtails ($48) in hearty brown gravy.

A little bowl of warm, fragrant almond milk had sticky rice dumplings filled with black sesame paste in it, a dessert that sent us floating off into the Daly City night. The meal came to $120 a person including tax and generous tip.

Dim sum delivers its own pleasures — for a much smaller investment. A well-organized lunch menu with color photos allows you to check off the dishes you want, including 19 different teas.

Connoisseurs say a dim sum kitchen can be judged on the quality of its har gow ($4.50), shrimp dumplings. Koi Palace’s are lovely, plump with sweet, fresh shrimp meat, barely bound, the wrappers tender and translucent.

Salt-and-pepper fried kabocha squash ($6) — this dish is popping up everywhere — and a voluptuous sharks fin dumpling that breaks open into double rich broth ($6.50), are two of my favorites.

Every table seems to have an order of Koi’s signature, chewy, coffee-glazed pork spare ribs ($6.90) in an oversized cappuccino cup.

End with Jumbo Prawn Vermicelli ($24), a crisp noodle pancake, smoky from the wok, slathered with a pale orange pumpkin sauce seasoned with ginger and garlic, huge shrimp with butterflied shell on top.

After 14 years, Koi Palace still brings everyone to the table, for a banquet or a snack at the highest level.

Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Koi Palace

Serramonte Plaza, 365 Gellert Blvd., Daly City
Contact: (650) 992-9000; www.koipalace.com
Hours: Dim sum  from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. nightly
Price range: $2.80 to $480
Recommended dishes: Har gow; chicken claw in black bean sauce; suckling pig; jumbo prawn vermicelli; Australian lobster served three ways; Dungeness crab served two ways
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express
Reservations: Dinner only

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