In light of Chinese New Year, the Chinese banquet business is particularly lively at this time of the year. End of the year dinners have been taking place all over the Bay Area. Within the span of 3 days, I attended a Chinese style banquet at Fook Yuen in Millbrae and China Village in Albany. Below is the result of an Iron Chef face off between the two restaurants. Results were judged on 5 categories including price/menu, creativity, presentation, ambiance, and service. Judging was completely subjective. Below are the results.
Price and Menu.
My Chinese banquet meal at Fook Yuen occurred on a Wednesday. The table price was $250 for 10 persons consisting of the standard Cantonese fare including cold plate, walnut prawns, crispy chicken, steamed fish, etc. Sorry that I did not record all of the dishes. However, none were sufficiently remarkable to this chowhound that he would make notation. My Chinese banquet meal at China Village took place 3 days later on Sat. The table cost $330 for 11 persons consisting of the menu below. IMHO, $250-$350 per table has become the norm here in the Bay Area. In recent years, Chinese banquet prices have caught up with prices in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Royal 7 star combination cold plate
Pipa prawns with mango
Szechwan imperial kungpao chicken
Tanjia crab meat with fish belly and sharks fin soup (this was special)
Sauteed abalone and sea cucumber with baby bok choy (my favorite)
Szechwan green onion roast squab
Monkey head mushroom steeped in supreme chicken broth
Five ingredient crispy whole fish
Supreme Chinese sausage and bacon rice baked in claypot
Chefs special sticky rice dessert
The menu at Fook Yuen was predictable and rather non-memorable Cantonese fare. In contrast, the above dishes from China Village have their origin from different parts of China. For many Bay Areans, dishes are new to the palate. John Yao, the owner of China Village claims that he rotates different chefs to and from China to keep up with the latest trends there. As a frequent business traveler to China, this chowhound believes him.
The Fook Yuen presentation was unremarkable. In contrast, dish presentation at China Village was sophisticated and artistic. Dishes came out adorned with bird and pheasant sculptures made from turnips and carrots. Guests were abuzz with the beauty of dishes. Not so beautiful however that persons didnt launch into the food. Everything was scrumptious.
Fook Yuen gave us the entire upstairs (5 tables). In typical Chinese banquet fashion, tables were crowded and near one another. It was difficult to get in and out for both guests as well as servers. At China Village, we had a space to ourselves. Granted we only had 1 table, but it seemed to us that there was much better maneuverability for guests and server. Guests liked the ambiance afforded by high ceiling, and glass windows. Personally, I like that bar at China Village, a convenient location to wait for late arriving guests.
Sorry to say but the service at Fook Yuen was dismal. For 5 banquet tables, there were 2 servers. It was difficult to order the first glass of wine and more difficult to order a second. In contrast, we had a single server for our table at China Village. George was extremely attentive. Early in the dinner, the owner John came out and talked to us about his philosophy about Chinese food and Chinese cooking. At the end of the dinner, his wife came out and thanked us. I even took a photo of her with my 80 year old aunt.
And the winner is . China Village.
BTW. This Chowhound entry was not written by anyone affiliated with either of the above restaurants. I am simply one of the many Chinese banquet connoisseurs living in the Bay Area.