Uh, Can I Get Some Dim Sum And An Amen?
Note: The first half of this post was started last Monday and wasn't finished until today. That should give you an indication of how much I slacked off this week.
Go me-ee! It's my birfday! Go me-ee! It's my birfday!
Yes, oh yes, my happy campers. Yesterday was yours truly's birthday!
The big 3-3. That's thirty-three years, not young, but old - and I have dragged my sad, sorry, behind through every damn day of it, damn it!
Last night, Laura, of Tom and Laura fame, cheerfully reminded me that 33 was the age Jesus was when he was crucified.
You know, it is true that, at times, I have resembled Jesus: The Dude. Like, there was that time I wore sandals a whole year straight.
Long hair? Been there! Well, it was a mullet really. Actually...it was a skullet. Had a beard, too.
Often I've been told to "get off the cross - we need the wood!" And while I'm not a Jewish carpenter who still lives with his mother, I do listen to a lot of Klezmer, eat Chinese food on a regular basis, and complaining satisfies me like no other, which kinda sorta makes me "jew-ish".
However, that's probably where the similarities between me and the Big J (aka Jay-Jay, Mac Jay, Jay One, One Dolla, or Straight Pimpin' as he's variously known in the hood or to his set, the 12 Apostles) end, since last time I checked ain't no hos been washing my feets as of lates.
But keeping Jay-Jay in mind, I've decided this year will be a year of change and transformation; of ascending, rather that constant descent into the same ol' same ol'.
This year is my "Jesus Year".
Uh, can I get witness? Uh, can I hear you testify? Uh,...is anyone still there?
Coincidentally, I also happen to be born on Abraham Lincoln's birthday - the former American president who, like Straight Pimpin', was murdered in the prime of his life. Nevertheless, despite the allure of top hats and gaunt facial expressions, something about having an "Abraham Lincoln Year" just doesn't seem appealing to me.
So, to start this year off right, what's a good jew-ish goy to do but go eat dim sum for his birthday lunch? And if I'm going to eat dim sum and not have to pick up the check, why not go to the somewhat famous and ever popular Koi Palace?
Koi Palace in Daly City is a pretty well-known Chinese seafood restaurant that's been around since 1996. If you hadn't already heard about it you might never know it existed, as it sits at the back of a shopping center completely hidden from view of the main thoroughfare.
I've wanted to go to Koi Palace ever since we lived in Daly City and often I've entertained the thought when Bruce and I have been around the Serramonte area. However, I've always assumed Koi Palace was too expensive to go to, and of course when I heard about the hour or two long wait for dim sum, I just brushed off the thought of going.
I can tell you now, it's neither expensive and the wait is tolerable, especially if you get there at the right time.
We arrived at 1 PM and were witness to a whole gaggle of people milling about in large groups near the entrance of the restaurant. Luckily, the parking gods were favorable to us and granted us a spot as close to the front door as humanly possible...and we didn't even have to say our usual parking mantra!
After squeezing our way through the front door and past those still waiting to be seated, we got our number and proceeded to stand next to the case displaying dried shark's fin at $500 a pound. After learning about the harvest of shark's fin, it somewhat unnerved me to be standing next to them, and had they been something else, like dried tree bark or something, I probably wouldn't have thought twice about it. But then again, I'm also not the type of guest who goes into someone's house (or culture) and starts immediately criticizing the furniture.
That would make me an asshole.
Instead, I simply opt out of eating anything made with shark's fin. And, you know, if everyone followed this philosophy of "if you've got a problem with it, just don't do/eat it", the world would be a much better place.
The wait lasted 40 minutes, but it seemed more like 20 since there was so much activity and things to see just waiting in the lobby. The lobby, crammed with families and people coming and going and people brushing up against you, was remarkably a comfortable place to wait. Whoever their HVAC person is deserves a medal or something. And the restaurant was devoid of heavy, funky, bad, heavily-food, or even fishy smells despite the abundance of live seafood of every kind that greets you at the right side of the lobby entrance.
The design of the lobby (and later the restaurant as I would find out) was not only tastefully designed, but beautifully designed. The only things that seemed out of place were the mounted televisions showing some weird Kung Fu soccer fantasy soap opera.
The sound of numbers being called through the loudspeaker was muffled and tinny and slightly fingernails-running-down-the-blackboardy and seemed to have a little bit of a conversation going on in Cantonese before finally getting around to "table of ten" and "number 408". Large groups of people were called in the 400 number category, while smaller groups of 2 or 3 were called in the 100 range.
We were 148.
The clientele was about 90% Asian with many families and people of all ages. Large round tables dominated the restaurant which seats 400 people, though we landed a table for two right smack dab in the middle of all the action. A restaurant of this size made Bruce and I fantasize about the size and hectic action of the kitchen, or maybe kitchens (plural).
What is that freaky white dude staring at? Dang! Take a picture, freak-o! It'll last longer!
As soon as we were seated, we were asked what kind of tea we wanted. The options were many, including Bo-Lay (or Pu-erh), Jasmine, Oolong, Gok Fa, Dragonwell, and something called Monkey Picked Tikuanyin.
Not knowing where those monkey hands had been or if they were washed before leaving the restroom, we decided on the bo-lay, which is a fermented tea that, unlike most teas, is aged for 1-4 (but sometimes as long as 50) years. The tea is best after steeping for a few minutes, which darkens the color and brings out the rich, earthy, almost smokey, flavor of the tea.
Koi Palace isn't like most dim sum places, since no one wheels around little metal carts with steaming hot food on them. OK, there are a few carts, and there are plenty of waitresses walking around carrying steamer baskets full of dim sum, but for the most part you order from a little paper menu where you check off in pencil which dishes you're having.
After the waiter comes by and picks it up, he takes it to some mysterious place and then brings it back with some mysterious scribble on the front.
Using a copy of the Rosetta stone I keep in my wallet, I deciphered it as saying "burn the British, sweep the kitchen, a cup of Joe," and "pin a rose on it".
Afterwards, the dim sum we checked off was brought to our table in no particular order whereby the waitress would stamp on our tab which category the dim sum belonged to, ie., small ($2.50), medium ($3.20), or large ($4.20).
First up was the cold Seaweed and Jellyfish ($4.80).
In general, I like the texture of jellyfish, although it can be a little too tough. This wasn't tough, but it was a little chewy. It had a definite crunch when biting into it and tasted light and fresh with a strong flavoring of sesame. The seaweed was definitely the winner on this plate as it was bright, sweet, crisp, and with the flavor of the sea. I could eat this often.
The next to arrive is was the Bee's Nest Taro Puffs (medium), which are these fragile, crunchy balls that are deep fried and delicate on the outside and filled with a hot gravy and bits of minced pork and taro on the inside. While these were very good and precisely the reason I go eat dim sum, I have to admit that the taro puffs at the less fancy Y Ben House in Chinatown were much larger and tastier than these. Nevertheless, bring 'em on!
Because Bruce has this thing for the pan-fried leak and pork dumplings (large), we had to order those, and actually it turned out to be a wise choice. Because (like a lot of what we ordered) these dumplings are dim sum staples, the regular eater of dim sum has no doubt come across many inferior versions of these. This is generally why I steer clear of them. However, like a lot of the dim sum staples we ordered at Koi Palace, these were exceptional. Hot, flavorful, fresh tasting, and not bitter like some.
The plate wasn't half-bad either.
Next up was the indomitible baked Char Siu Bao (medium), king of the dim sum. Also a dim sum treat that has fallen under many hands of incompetance and cheapness, this one has a tendency to be overly sweet on the inside, doughy on the outside, and made with inferior ingredients.
But not these. In fact, these were the best barbecue pork buns I've ever had. And instead of the normal behemoth char siu bao you get at many steam-table to-go places, these were petite and delicate with a superb sweet, but not overly so, barbecue pork center. If all char siu bao were like these, I think I would have to give up all other food and subsist on these alone.
Are you still with me? Cause we aint done eating yet!
Next came the green onion pancake ($3.20), which is a Northern Chinese specialty. Again, though region specific, this (like Kung Pao Chicken, Chow Mein, and Peking Duck) is found in almost all Chinese restaurants. What made this one stand out was its sturdiness. Often, green onion pancakes, which are less "pancake" than "fried bread" are too doughy or biscuit-like. These were perfectly pieces of fried bread and onions that complemented nicely with a little Chinese mustard or chili sauce.
If char siu bao is the king of dim sum, then Har Gow is most definitely the princess.
Sometimes this princess can be vicious and tyranical, striking fear into all who partake her sight and flavors. Sometimes she can be a spinster, an old maid, a washed up, little ol' bitty. Other times, like this, she can be a fresh, delicate, plump, juicy, shrimp-filled dumpling with a soft, velvety, translucent skin.
If Princess Har Gow and King Char Siu Bao could marry and have children...well, that would be incest. But let's just say we were in the backwoods of North Carolina, alcohol was involved, and "things just kinda happened", then I would be first in line to bow, or bao, to the next ruler of the universe.
These har gow were certainly worthy of royalty.
We should've stopped here, but we were bound to waddle out of there...or die trying. The last bit of dim sum that came was the pork ribs in black bean sauce (small). In fact, we should've stopped before we got to this point, if only because these were wasted on us, or perhaps just wasted. Not Bruce nor my favorite and we could've definitely skipped this one. All bones and gristle in an undistinguishable sauce.
If only Bruce would've let me order those damn chicken feet! I'm sure those would've been much better.
As our stomachs extended up and outwards, tables were being cleared and table tops were being lifted up and rolled away. It was about 2:45 PM and had we known when to come without dealing with a wait, we would've come at 2:30 since half of the place had cleared out by then.
As it was, we still ended up scoring the best seat and parking space at the restaurant! Hoo-yeah!
Yes, the gods were definitely with us that day.