There are a few unexpected things for me about Koi Palace. I didn’t expect it to be in the middle of PetSmart, Ross, 24 Hour Fitness, Outback, and CVS. Nor could I fathom why it was completely full at noon time on a Wednesday. People in Daly City don’t have to work on weekdays? What about schools? (plenty of school-age glanced at me mid-bites when I tried to spy the food on their table…) Inexplicable.
Perhaps the food here is really so good that work is meaningless without it? Among the things we got, a few really gave us that instant burst of satisfaction like when you pop a bubble-wrap bubble and made me forget work for a second. Such as the grilled chive and shrimp dumplings. Each ball plops into your mouth and fills the void so perfectly, you sink into a plump piece of shrimp every time you move your jaw. It takes some time to chew, and you kind of wish it would last even longer.
The espresso coffee ribs are another. You can definitely taste the coffee in that succulent, rich piece of meat. This is one of those examples of candied meat, an odd-sounding but undeniably addictive entanglements. If Koi Palace were a buffet, this would be what people pile on their plates.
Not all items were unanimously favorites, however. Most were oily, regrettably but not unexpectedly, such as the roast duck with the perfect-looking burnt orange glaze, the lo mai gai (sticky rice with dried scallop and lap cheong wrapped in lotus leaves), and the cheong fun with BBQ pork and crispy rice.
This cheong fun is interesting, though. The crispy rice part is some type of crispy rice noodle made into a mesh and deep-fried, then rolled next to typical Chinese red-and-sweet BBQ pork cubes inside thick sheets of rice noodle. Finally, the rolls are doused in a sweet soy sauce. We see that they’re trying to go for a soft-versus-crispy-versus-meaty (?) texture harmony thing, but the crispy rice couldn’t stay crispy very long. I like them still, but had I not been Vietnamese and a fan of the much-thinner-rice-roll banh cuon, I would have liked these more.
We always order xiao long bao as a standard measure of how good the dumplings are at dimsum houses. Unfortunately, the xiao long baos here are a bit of a disappointment compared to Shanghai Dumpling King’s (I’m convinced that Shanghai Dumpling King actually has the best Shanghai dumpling aka xiao long bao aka soup dumpling in the Bay Area). They’re not juicy enough. The stuffing is lackluster. They won’t be ordered again.
The remaining fares were neither dream nor embarrassment. There were the fairly commendable congee with pork and pidan, although I would prefer it 30% less thick, sliced jellyfish and green seaweed salad that got stuck in my teeth forever, really nutty gailan in oyster sauce, which was a nice break from all the meat, some Sichuan spicy seafood dumplings in red peanut sauce that looked like little green aliens but thankfully weren’t too spicy, and the unassuming but lovely Peking-style steamed chive and pork dumplings, which never go wrong.
Although the porridge was brought out near the beginning as it should be, the rest of the food arrived in no predictable order. Lo mai gai came first. Deep-fried sesame balls for desserts came at the same time as the green aliens, then they kept pouring in and dangerously took over our table. I stopped taking pictures at one point to start eating so that we could get rid of the plates…
Speaking of desserts, if there is one thing you should never get at Koi Palace, it’s Number 501 under “Sweet Heart” – “Grilled Black Sesame Filled Glutinous Cake”. They are deceptively cute – each is a little squishy ball coated with sesame seeds and contains a gooey black sesame core, kinda like the Sno Balls(*). They are death. Not in a good way, because they are so oily that you are afraid of swallowing, so you have to chew them to death. The problem is that the core is too little and the skin is too thick. If you want black-sesame dessert balls, go to Shanghai Dumpling King, they serve it boiled and full of sesame. On the other hand, the deep-fried balls with lotus and bean paste inside are actually good.
The take-away message: when you’re at Koi Palace, order “espresso coffee ribs” and “grilled chive & shrimp dumpling”. Do NOT order “Grilled Black Sesame Filled Glutinous Cake”.
Address: Koi Palace in Serramonte Plaza
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015
(*) Sno Balls are the best American sweets ever invented.
(**) Photo credit: some photos were taken by bnibroc.