Dueling dim sum
King Palace Restaurant:
5829 Stockton Boulevard; (916) 456-8888.
Dim sum for one:
$10 - $15
Full Moon Seafood Restaurant:
4521 Truxel Road; (916) 285-7888.
Dim sum for one:
$10 - $15
Dim-sum sluts, just like other sluts, by definition, can’t say no.
Kim, the ever-buoyant waitress and major-domo at Momiji, the cozy Japanese restaurant at 14th and G streets, receives the following advice about where she and her boyfriend should go on Stockton Boulevard if they hanker for a nifty dim-sum experience: Asian Pearl and Happy Garden. The dad of a family of three of Chinese descent at a neighboring table says no, King Palace is better. Since “no” is not an option, his recommendation does not fall on deaf ears.
When news of this high praise for King Palace Seafood Restaurant is shared with a dim-sum doyenne, she says she knows nothing about dumpling delectability down that way, but the Full Moon Seafood Restaurant on Truxel in Natomas offers up a swingin’ steamed saturnalia.
Hence, this tale of two eateries. Would, for symmetry’s sake, the next line could be, “It was the best of dim sum and the worst of dim sum.” But that would be fiction. Both were neither.
Don’t balk because of King’s somewhat off-putting location and entrance. The strip mall’s exterior appears as if its last face-lift occurred during Phyllis Diller’s Wonder Bread years. A blizzard of handbills, mostly in Chinese with a smattering of Vietnamese, festoon the clear bricks left of the front door. Go inside and discover the truth in King Palace’s name. If the state’s budget deficit could be paid off in the crimson-upholstered, gold-framed chairs within its football-field-size enormity, King Palace would be California’s savior. There’s a robust weekday crowd and an over-capacity weekend mob mainly of patrons whose genetic code is far more synchronous with the nuances of superior dumplings.
At Monarch Pad, it’s dim sum all day, every day. Dim sum is only a weekend fling for Full Moon Seafood, which, while not salient in this dim-sum discussion, lives admirably up to its name with its seven-day-a-week menu. Like most weekday dumpling houses, the selection at King is pretty standard—sticky rice, chicken feet, har gow, siu mai, steamed and baked char siu bao and siu long bao, which the cart pusher, with a bright smile, helps pronounce.
First visit, the har gow is bland. Although supposed to be cold, the eggplant would have tasted better warm. Valuable time passes before mustard arrives to create the magic dipping sauce of which soy and chili sauce are also integral. Over all, underwhelming.
As has happened previously, the second visit proves providential. Facts not previously in evidence emerge. King Palace is part of the far-flung dim-sum empire of Happy Garden, just up the block. The mother ship is being remodeled. Supposed to be completed in March, there is now copious finger-crossing for a June 1 reopening.
The matronly waitress is kindly and warm. The dim sum is more flavorful. There’s a peppery zip to the char sui bao, normally one of dim sum’s most benign offerings. Fresh from the steamer onto the plate, the shark-fin gow is scalding, the spare ribs—while not garnished with jalapeño slices—tender but firm. And, as a special bonus treat, Fiona, the tart but solicitous manager of Happy Garden, appears. She continues a running joke begun at Happy Moon and plops down a large stack of napkins. In the warm afterglow I bask.
There are no carts threading through the bright yellow-, Prussian blue- and white-trimmed Full Moon Seafood. There’s a dim-sum menu. The shark fin gow is well seasoned. The pork cheung fun, crystal chives gor and, especially, the fried eggplant crowned with scallions delight. The deep-fried shrimp wrapped in bacon is rumaki without the charm. The two chunks of gristle in the first two siu mai dumplings are rude surprises. The other two are gristle-free.
The service was attentive, the dim sum varied, but King Palace, in part simply through breadth of experience, wins the competition.