It seems that no matter where you travel, restaurants that specialize in the Chinese smallfoods known as Dim Sum have a ubiquitous repute to them. Crowded, busy, loud, raucous, and balanced on the razor’s edge between “food first” and “burn ’em and turn ’em”. The Daly City Koi Palace filled all of those roles spectactularly, for good or ill. Having last visited a week before Christmas, I absolutely got the feel of what it’s like to be at the mall for last minute holiday shopping. But I spent a great deal less and doubtless enjoyed myself a whole lot more.
First, the location. It’s just two turns off of route 280 via exit 46 at Serramonte Plaza (650-992-9000, and online at http://www.koipalace.com/ ). Getting there is easy, but parking is hard. There’s tons of spaces, but unless your timing is perfect, and a wave of people is cycling out, they’re all full. That said, I also advise making reservations and showing up early to get in line. A 10:30 reservation will *probably* get you seated by 11 if you show up at 10:15. Needless to say, if you’re looking for a place to kick back and relax, Koi Palace isn’t for you.
The crowd at the door and foyer is typically massive, especially when it’s raining- which I did experience when dropping in with friends the other day. At the counter there’s a screen that looks like a train schedule, constantly shifting with the parties that are likely to get seated next. Columns for parties of 1-3, 4-6, 7-10, and 10+ make it seem a touch mercenary, but it’s just practical. Considering the crowds and chaos, a visible reminder that you haven’t been forgotten is great.
The dining room is enormous and extravagant looking despite the modest decor. Tables are spaced with just enough room for you and the dim sum carts to squeak by between the tables, which of course means it’s loud. But it’s not rock concert loud, exactly. Imagine being on the sidewalk outside that theoretical concert. The reverb and the heavy background rumble tell you there’s a lot going on, but it doesn’t get in the way of your night. You can sit and talk with your dining companions while buried in dim sum and still hear each other just fine.
The servers are available and attentive but don’t seem dedicated to any particular tables. Since carts and deliveries are walking their beats with delicious delicacies of all sorts, there are plenty of people to ask if you need something. And yes, the food is rather tasty. Their Shanghai Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao, XLB, whatever you want to call them) are first rate, and offer a five-flavor version that does an excellent job of showing the versatility of the dumpling. There are a lot of flavor and texture-rich delicious things you won’t find in even vaguely Western dining establishments, which suits me just fine. Chicken feet, jellyfish, duck tongues all prominent on the menu and making me quite happy. There was a neat Zhaliang (a chinese cruller wrapped in rice noodles, served with a savory sauce) that I’d never experienced before. One of my dining companions mentioned his first time eating it he thought the noodles were icing. Oops.
Regarding the rest of the food- just don’t forget that everything is bone-in, and be ready for textures and flavors that are well worth the trip. Dim sum is about the food, yes. But it’s also about the experience of sharing. Bring a few friends and relax over small bites of good food, tea, and enthusiastic conversation. It won’t break the bank either. 25 dollars a head should leave you feeling full and satisfied. And I’ve got to say it again- if you’re wondering about that ‘mall right before Christmas’ feel, this is definitely the place to go.