Last month ex-SF, now-NY chowhounder, chibi, returned to our fair city for a convention and was chomping at the bit to have some good Cantonese seafood. Her previous visit we ate at Parc Hong Kong on Geary, this time we headed down to Millbrae. The Kitchen had just opened, but we thought it was too soon to bet her one meal on. So we headed over to Zen Peninsula. While I've had lunch there before, this was a first visit at dinner time. On a Monday night it wasn't very busy. The live seafood tanks, other than the teeming snow crab quarters, were stocked sparsely. We assumed they'd been cleaned out from a busy weekend and not replenished yet.
We started with one of the signature dishes as an appetizer, the honey glazed barbecued pork (char siu). It's made with pork neck meat which has a smooth and slightly chewy texture. The cross-cut slices had the tender rind and crunchy fat layer (that was so good!). I found the glaze a bit too sweet and monotonal and it didn't have charred carmelization that would have it made it more interesting. But it was a nice cut and not very expensive. I'd certainly order it again to see if another batch might turn out a little differently.
For our geoduck two-ways (priced at $25 per pound), we picked 1) stir-fried with yellow chives and 2) salt and pepper with crispy tofu cubes. We both liked the salt and pepper version with a nicely piquant heat from red chili flakes as well as fresh jalapeños and plenty of garlic. It was a little on the greasy side, but delicious nonetheless. The stir-fry suprised me with the addition of sugar peas making it a more substantial dish. If we'd known that ahead of time, we wouldn't have ordered a separate dish of pea shoots. The slices of geoduck had the fresh sweet flavor of top quality, live clams. Chibi liked the firm almost crunchy texture, whereas I would have liked a more tender bite, however, that's just personal preference.
The dish of the night was scallops with egg whites, as shown below. Wow, wow, wow! We loved this one. The egg whites were fully cooked curds yet had a near-custardy texture. The chunks of sweet and intensely flavorful scallops blended into the whites had the perfect juicy and barely cooked flesh. Salty nubbins sprinkled over added depth and suprise pinpoints of sweet-saltiness. I used the egg yolk on mine which made the flavors of this dish fuller and pop out even more, while chibi refrained from this raw condiment. Even the oil that glistens the egg whites was special, wonderfully aromatic and enriched by the wok.
The pea shoots were quite good here, sauteed to just the right balance of soft and crisp. We loved the whole cloves of carmelized, soft and sweet wok-roasted garlic that flavored these seasonal greens.
To finish, we were served two complimentary desserts. The tong sui was green bean with ginger and dried orange peel. The mignardise plate had buttery cookies and coconut-coated custardy chewy things that we hypothesized had tapioca or glutinous rice flour. Chibi noticed that the table next to us had been offered a choice of dofu fa or tong sui, whereas ours was just brought to us. That's a small quibble since we liked both sweets.
When I asked chibi to sum up her opinion of Zen Peninsula, she said, "My recent Cantonese eating has been in Hong Kong and New York . . . which are heaven and hell. I'm not sure I can judge any more, still I think this is really good." I'd agree with her that Zen reaches for the heavens.