Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hong Kong Palace

Western style brunch gets old. On those weekends when it's too late for breakfast but not quite yet time for lunch, why not give dim sum a try? Back in the '80s, Monterey Park used to be the hot spot for Chinese supermarkets, restaurants, and specialty stores. Immigrants and adventurous residents used to make the weekly commute from cities as far as Diamond Bar (maybe further!) for groceries or eating out. There simply was nowhere else to purchase authentic Chinese food.

Circa 1991, the Chinese community in Rowland Heights began rapid commercial development along Colima., thus eliminating the need to frequent Monterey Park. Two supermarkets, countless restaurants, stores, and clinics sprung up so fast that local American establishments recoiled from the sudden loss of Chinese customers. During this brief time period of commercial development, Hong Kong Palace emerged as the best restaurant in the area, followed closely by the revered Sam Woo Seafood Restaurant. Hong Kong Palace served the finest and freshest ingredients in a luxurious dining room, thus putting it ahead of its competitors. Its masterful chefs produced dishes so amazing that during any given meal, it was the norm for each party to wait at least 20 to 25 minutes for a table. On a weekday.

To this day, Hong Kong Palace is still as popular as ever. So popular, in fact, that they have significantly increased their prices. A pound of jumbo shrimp as massive as prawns previously priced at $30 is now $60. Hong Kong Palace has still kept the Buy One Pound Get Another Free deal, however.

Though my family used to be regulars at Hong Kong Palace, we have not dined there in over six years, partly because we have excellent cooks in the family now. Recently, we decided to pay our favorite Chinese restaurant a visit again, this time for dim sum. We arrived at 1:22pm (dim sum goes until 3pm) and were not the least surprised to find 11 parties already waiting before us. The wait wasn't so bad, though--15 minutes. Being no stranger to dim sum, we filled our table with each cart's goodies in no time.

Saying that my family members eat fast is an understatement. As a moderately paced eater who savors every bite, eating "family style" is a real challenge for me. Dishes I like are usually finished by the time I go back for seconds. I'm surprised I even had the time to shoot the following photos, a small portion of our meal that afternoon:

BBQ Pork Pastries:

It's not customary to start off a meal with a sweet item, but I defied tradition and had a plate of these flaky pastries sent to my table. These were simply amazing. Layers and layers of crispy buttery goodness. My only complaint is that there is not enough pork wrapped inside. Then again, I've always complained about the lack of meat at every Asian restaurant.

Chicken Feet:

Yeah, it sounds gross, but keep an open mind and try some. Savory (soy sauce and a blend of spices) and slightly spicy, these chicken feet were very skillfully prepared. The skin and meat were not too soggy like in most dim sum restaurants. As a child, nibbling on chicken feet used to be my highlight when having dim sum. It's a very fun dish to eat and takes newbies a bit of concentration to get all the meat off.

Shumai and Fried Tofu with Shrimp:

Shumai is the bottom dish. It could have been bad luck, but this serving of shumai seemed either overcooked or has circled the room in the hot cart for hours. They were just too soggy. The taste was blander than usual, but I could still discern the taste of ground pork. A mix of mustard and chili sauce really helped improve this shumai, though.

Fried Tofu with Shrimp:

My family is a big fan of fried tofu, and we give this dish our approval. Each tofu is topped with very fresh shrimp before placed in the steamer. Frying anything automatically makes it tastier, and tofu is no exception. Topping it with shrimp and some sort of sauce makes it even better!

Egg Custard Tarts:

Egg Custard Tarts is the favorite of every Chinese kid who's had dim sum. Adults typically do not order this, but I had to feed my inner child. The crust hit the perfect medium of soft and crispy while maintaining its flakiness. Perfect! The egg custard was flavorful and not overly sweet to cover up any shortcomings. (Some establishments cheat like that.) I could polish off nine of these tarts. They are so damn good.

Pork Blood "Tofu":

"Pork Blood 'Tofu'" is not the official name. I do not know the official name, but my designation more or less captures the essence of this unique dish. Pork blood is somehow rendered into the form of tofu and cooked in a pork broth with Daikon radishes. Blood tastes good. Don't ask me how or why and don't feign a shocked look on your face. Somehow, the pork blood "tofu" captures the very essence of pork and then some. There is the meatiness of pork along with the slight sweetness of blood. Quite a unique dish. Adjacent is hot sauce for dipping.

These are the only photographs I managed to shoot during the meal. We actually ordered well over ten unique dishes. A real dim sum meal is lengthly, relaxed, and it is not unusual to go through over four pots of tea. You eat a lot of food. Though the dishes my family ordered were pretty good for the most part, we all agreed that something was just off. The dishes weren't as exquisite or carefully prepared as we remembered. Furthermore, the taste, though well above average, is just not as good as it used to be. Regardless, Hong Kong Palace still remains one of the best places in Rowland Heights for Dim Sum.


KirkK said...

Hey Roger - We used to go to hong Kong Palace when we lived in the area...but the service was usually uniformly terrible. If I recall during the time we lived in Rowland Heights, didn't they have to close twice because of kitchen fires?

Roger said...

Growing up both in the States and in Taiwan, the only times my family has had the equivalent to Western style service and attention was when we went to the really high end Chinese restaurants. You just gotta flag down a waiter and yell out what you want. I'm still not used to doing that :P

As for the fires...I must have been in Taiwan during those times. The place has recovered pretty well!

Charlie Fu said...

They used to have a sick lunch special, 5$ a plate . Huge plate of stir fry fish canton style and a big mound of rice to go.

Very nice.

And to Kirk, they used to have fires its true.