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No one was more excited than I about the news that Palette Tea House, an offshoot of Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux, would be opening in April on San Francisco's waterfront within walking distance for me. I managed to snag one of the few reservations for the first week of soft opening.
More upscale than its siblings, the first surprise was that the largest round tables seat only seven diners. Our party of six occupied one of these, and we agreed it would be too cramped with one more. Service was surprisingly good and eager to please from bussers up to manager, considering how busy the room was.
To summarize the food, flavors were good but some of the execution was severely off at this early stage. Since the dumplings are sourced from the commissary kitchen used by Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux, the recipes hold up. However, four of the five styles of steamed dumplings we ordered were overcooked, bloated and too soft. The pantry seems to include more luxurious ingredients, such as Iberico pork and Wagyu beef. More details provided below of successes and missteps with the photos of all dishes. One curious thing was the numerical mismatch of numbers, as in not enough buns provided for the number of servings of Dongpo pork or the number of condiments exceeding the wells to provided hold them.
That said, I'm still excited about having Palette Tea House in the neighborhood, and expect the partners to work out those problems over the coming weeks. This venue has been a cursed spot. Palette's upmarket dim sum and cocktails concept in the hands of experienced management might finally bring success.
This is the crowd outside at 11:15am hoping to get a seat on Palette's first Sunday service. The line stretched from inside the restaurant, out the door and around the corner. Having one of the day's very few advance reservations let us bypass the line and be seated immediately.
A &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;palette&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; of condiments was brought to the table to spoon onto our individual lunch plates.
Note that there are FIVE sauces and only FOUR spaces on the individual plates. Be sure to load up because the serving tray of condiments is taken away before the food arrives never to be seen again.
Bo lo BBQ pork bun, 2/$6. One of the day's highlights, loved the sweet crunchy top and soft as a cloud baked bread surrounding the moist filling.
Iberico pig cha siu, $22, breaking down to approximately $4 apiece for each of these bite size slices. The marbling of this heritage pork made for rich flavor and succulent texture. Good barbecue pork, but too much sweet sauce congealed on the surface.
Spiced crispy silken tofu, $8, custardy insides with delicately crisp shell. One of my favorites for dabbing with the condiments.
Garlic pea shoots, $14. Spot on texture and vivid freshness.
Wagyu beef chow fun, $18. Very tasty and deeply beefy, but lacking sear or breath of the wok notes.
Typhoon soft shell crab, $12. Quite a letdown and a serious miss with hardly a trace of the tasty bits that should be part of bei fung tong style crab. Just a lot of batter crumbs and garlic with the occasional hot chile pepper.
Sichuan seafood dumplings, 4/$8. The best of the many dumplings we tried this morning. Maybe because they seem to be boiled and not steamed. And lucky us, we received five per order, not the four stated on the menu.
The signature XLB sampler, 5/$12, was a let down once again. Since these were completely deflated, they had sat too long once out of the steamer. And I really dislike these ceramic spoons as they retain heat and are impossible to pick up with bare hands. I need to learn to stop ordering this dish.
Dong Po pork with fried mantou, $14. Here was yet another example of mismatched counts. Since there are four big cubes of pork, shouldn't there be four buns and not just two to go with them? The braised skin was luscious but the meat was stringy and tough and could not be divided at the table using a serving spoon to try to cut through it. The pork belly in this prep should be buttery soft.
Lotus wrap abalone sticky rice, $7. Lovely separate grains of chewy rice, perhaps a little overseasoned but very nice. One of the bargains on the menu.
Lobster har gow, 3/$8. Like the other tapioca-wrapper dumplings, quite oversteamed and too soft. But these still tasted good and the filling was not overcooked.
Black swan taro puffs, 2/$8. High price for this styling but they were done well.
Rainbow prawns crepe, $8. What a mess! Ungodly thick rice flour crepe tasted like it had been reheated several times. So unpliable, it couldn't even be rolled properly. This should never have made it to the table and I regret not returning it.
XO and shrimp dumplings, 3/$8. Oversteamed and the same shrimp forcemeat repeated across dumpling styles became boring.
Har gow, 3/$6. At that price, one expects whole shrimp in the filling. None in my piece, anyone else?
Vegetarian dumplings, 3/$8. Umami-packed mushroom filling, and these turned out to be the only dumplings that were not oversteamed. Perhaps not that popular and were indeed steamed to order instead of in a holding rack for too long. I enjoyed these a lot.
The round table set for our party of six theoretically can seat seven. There was barely enough room in the center for a handful of dishes at a time. So best to order in courses to manage table space. Also, with no lazy susan, we had to pick up and pass greasy hot dishes to share.
Palette Tea House
900 North Point St, Ste #B201
San Francisco, CA 94109
As of today, the website still says &amp;quot;now in soft opening&amp;quot;.
$5 for two hours of parking with validation