My friends were in town from Boston, and I decided to show them a taste of the Chinese food offerings in San Francisco.
First stop was Shanghai Dumpling King. They open at 10:00 AM on Sundays, and by the time we arrived at 10:20, the place was nearly full. The meal began with an order of the sugared egg puffs, which were fresh out of the fryer. Still the best version of these donuts that I've ever eaten anywhere - my friend described it as a sweet, fried popover. Next up was the pan fried chive and meat pastries - the wrapper was thin and crispy, and the filling was a simple pork and chive mixture. I hadn't tried these here before, and thought they were pretty good, though maybe not super special. Next were the XLB, which I still think are excellent. My friends noted the sweetness in the broth, and the prominent ginger flavor, and all of us appreciated the thin, delicate skins. Finally, we tried an order of the spicy chives and pork dumplings - the filling here was similar to the chive and meat pastries, but the dumplings were boiled and served in a surprisingly not-spicy chili sauce. We all thought it could have used more spice.
After this, we decided to take our time and head elsewhere for more food. The day was young.
Since my friends hadn't experienced the joys/wonders of suburban Californian dim sum before, we decided on Koi Palace - my first visit since 2008 or 2009. We got there at 11:40 and were told it would be about 30 minutes for a party of 3. It ended up being over an hour...but the system there is efficient (you get a number, which you can see on the screen, and you can also sign up for SMS notification for when your table is ready). As we waited, I read some more recent Koi Palace reviews, so we knew what to look for when we got inside.
We were seated at about 1 PM and things were still very busy (it was a Sunday). We chose things exclusively from the check-off menu, declining everything that passed us by on trays and carts. Avoiding these temptations was made easier by the fact that we had recently had a pretty sizable meal at Shanghai Dumpling King!
Pretty good: Lamb buns in clay pot. I liked the presentation (four buns come in a hot clay pot with onions and scallions) even though it didn't particularly make sense. None of us loved the texture of the buns - I thought they were too soft and fluffy. I would have preferred either a thinner wrapper (more dumpling-like) or something a bit breadier. The filling had cumin, and the bun to filling ratio was a bit off (too much bun) - I think someone else on Chowhound mentioned this too. We asked for some vinegar for dipping, and I think this added a lot. Probably wouldn't rush to order this again, but it certainly wasn't bad.
Good: Glutinous dumpling w/ diced pork. These came out piping hot, so the dough was still soft; almost mochi-like. Usually when I have this fried dumpling at dim sum it's been sitting on a cart for a while, so this was a new experience. The filling had pork and dried shrimp, and had a pretty seafood-heavy flavor overall. Not to everyone's liking, but I thought these were great.
Good: Shrimp rice roll. I like the fresh rice noodles here (which are hand made, according to the menu). The shrimp in this order were very large, but they tasted a bit overcooked to me...or perhaps just not as tender as I was expecting. But still quite good.
Very good: Steamed shrimp dumpling topped with XO sauce. I remember this from previous Koi Palace visits, and it's still great. The shrimp dumplings had plump tender pieces of shrimp, and the XO sauce provides a strong salty and spicy flavor. Delicious.
Very good: Crisp fish filet in rice roll. My friend described this as "fish and chips meets a rice noodle roll," and that is pretty much on point. The fish pieces had a medium-thick batter, and were rolled in the rice noodles and topped w/ sweet soy sauce. I like this even better than the donuts in rice noodle roll. Definitely recommended.
Total $ spent at Shanghai Dumpling King was about $25 including tip, and at Koi Palace was $35 including tip - and this was a LOT of food. So, a good deal for 3 people ($20 each, not including gas money)
I will definitely return to both places - they are still as great as I remember them!
Shanghai Dumpling King
3319 Balboa St (at 35th Ave)