On Monday we stopped at Koi Palace for yum cha en route to Salinas. Pulling into the parking lot at 1:20pm on a weekday, I had expected to find a space easily. Wrong --- the place was still hopping with cars parked in every available nook and cranny and people spilling out the door waiting for tables. By the time we unloaded and I circled a few times to secure a parking space, luckily, a table had opened up and we were seated quickly.
Hard to believe that it had been more than two years since my last time here.
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The place looks nice with the remodel of the lobby and freshened surfaces. It seemed like there was more room between tables than before. Yet, it is still one of the noisiest rooms, making it seem more Hong Kong-like, I guess. The din bothered my parents quite a bit, but after about 20 minutes, the place had emptied out considerably and they could hear each other again.
Circulating trays were pretty sparse at this hour, so we ordered most of our meal from the check-off list. Prices were the same as my last visit.
Best items were our first and last dishes, both deep-fried. We started with the bee's nest taro puff -- terrific when still hot out of the fryer with a golden brown fluffy crust and deliciously meaty filling with chunks of black mushroom and barbecued pork. To end, we had the sesame seed balls that were hot-hot too and so good. Crunchy, not too thick, and my mother commented that the amount of lotus seed filling was generous.
From the list of "house specials", we ordered the pan fried golden oysters and the shark fin dumpling in soup (boon tong gao), both $5.50 each. The oysters were fried as beautifully as the others with a thickish but light batter. The shape was interesting, the whole oysters were flattened into oblong disks. If I hadn't known what they were, I would have guessed slices of eggplant. However, the oysters themselves had no flavor, and would have been a complete wash without the black bean dipping sauce provided. The dumpling was better, served in a French onion soup crock, rather than a more elegant double-boiled soup bowl used at other dim sum houses. The wrapper was very tender and broke easily spilling out the very good quality mix of seafood with chunks of scallop, prawn, and octopus. Mom thought the consumme inside was too lumpy and jook-like. The broth moistening the outside of the dumpling was good, but not as good as Seafood Harbor's stock. The really impressive part was the chunk of sharks fin, still knit together, resting atop the dumpling.
The two steamed dumplings we ordered highlighted again why Koi Palace is not my favorite dim sum place. The har gao, $3.90, had lovely translucent wrappers encasing two tender-crisp whole shrimp and a bit of minced bamboo. But the seasoning was too salty, reeked of excessive white pepper, and was boosted with too much MSG. These are large in size and with four in a small steamer basket, they all stick together and cannot be extricated without ripping the skins. The spinach shrimp dumplings, $2.90, also suffered from too much white pepper and MSG, interfering with the natural taste of the main ingredients. The spinach filling was whole leaves, not chopped, including long stringy stems that one had to extricate from one's teeth. Admittedly it's a style preference, I happen to like my steamed dumplings to be delicate and refined.
The veggie bean curd roll, $2.40, was delicious with the right amount of MSG to give an extra undertone of savory sweetness to the mostly vegetable dish. I was surprised to find shrimp in the filling for something described as "veggie" on the menu. Stuffed with mostly slivered wood ears, it was a surprise to the eye to see so much black on the inside and a nice visual effect against the tan of the wrapper. The rolls were braised in a black bean sauce that was rather flat and neutral, but their own flavor was interesting enough to stand on its own.
We didn't order the higher grade teas this time. The house jasmine was a better quality than served at other tea houses. My mother didn't like the heavy cast metal teapot --- she couldn't lift it herself when it was full.
Service was much improved over my previous visit (Margret, tell your husband it's safe to go back). Maybe it was because we were at the end of the lunch opening and the staff wanted to hustle us out. But nonetheless, the employees had smiles on their faces and checked back many times to see if we needed anything else.
Our bill was $35, including tax and tip and we had a few pieces to take home with us.
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