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Chowdown Report: Chengdu Festival banquet at Koi Palace

Thomas Nash | Nov 12, 2016 11:09 AM

Eleven of us gathered last night for the Koi Palace instance of the Chengdu Food & Cultural Festival in San Francisco. An earlier thread on the Festival is at

This was a spectacular luxurious ingredients banquet on which we suspect the restaurant and sponsors lost money even at the price tag of $108/person (including everything, tax tip, and an effectively infinite sink of wine).

Pictures show the menu in Chinese and English.The versions do not agree with each other and in several cases not with details of the dishes served.

More pictures will be posted by others soon.

Here is my take on this quite amazing event:

There were a few Chengdu chef dishes elevated to luxury status that might be in keeping with the present economic boom in that old city. There were also some very luxurious ingredients in the Koi Hong Kong style. Nothing was missed that I can think of that would run up your wedding banquet bill: abalone, geoduck, turtle (!), sea cucumber, lobster… And in keeping with the idea that San Francisco and Chengdu are some kind of sister cities, I definitely detected SF influence in some of the plating presentations.

So, rather than being a true full authentic Chengdu banquet, I would describe this as an amazing (and quite interesting) Chengdu-Hong Kong-San Francisco spectacular.

As for individual dishes, as I noted in the earlier thread I was watching for the ma po tofu brought by the head chef from the mother lode Mother Chen restaurant in Chengdu. It did not disappoint. I was a little anxious when I heard there would be sea cucumber in the dish (a fact hidden in the English menu). Talk about mixing the 1% richest and most plebeian ingredients! They also threw in turtle cartilage (hidden on both menus — and when asked the waiter suggested in Chinese not to tell the others what this was). The whole perfectly prepared sea cucumber worked amazingly well with the tofu. I can imagine this is, an ingredient imported dried to very inland Sichuan, might have been a fun addition at a traditional Chengdu banquet. The ma po tofu was superb, almost reaching the exalted level that my memory has amplified of the dish at Mother Chen’s. The finely minced meat was definitely, and authentically, beef (not pork). Nothing IMHO like it in the Bay Area, but some SGV versions may approach it.

The tea smoked duck, another Sichuan classic, disappointed. It appears that it was boned and then a thick layer of sticky rice was attached and browned, and in the process the duck became a bit dry and the skin did not get to stand on its own. The dish was fancy and quite flavorful and quite good, but a simple presentation would have made me much happier.

The other standout Chengdu dish was the Husband-Wife tripe and tendon. It used excellent tripe and a superb preparation to outshine any other version of the dish as it appears on virtually every Bay Area “Sichuan” menu.

There were many other fine dishes that others can described. Of those I was most impressed by the geoduck sashimi, which was of the highest quality and presented with some humor as a rolled up copy of Sichuan cold pork slices.

The service struggled with 40 tables, around 450 diners. The 9 of us of European ancestry at our table were quite unique (there might have been one other individual at another table). That low ratio (less than 2%) surprised me as this had been well publicized.

Although it was hard to hear in the din (including sound system distorted speeches in Chinese by Martin Yan), it was fun meeting old friends and chatting with new ones at our table. Thanks to Ridge for organizing.

On the way out, many photos with Martin Yan, but I was most star struck by the table of super chefs from Chengdu.

Koi Palace
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