Sunday, March 2, 2014

Restaurant Review: Joy Luck Palace (dim sum)

Joy Luck Palace - lunch on February 19, 2014
I had never heard of Joy Luck Palace until I read that it was one of the top 5 places to go to for dim sum in the Bay Area. That's a pretty grandiose claim considering the plethora of dim sum places all over a geographic area heavily populated by Asians. A claim that can't go unresearched by yours truly, especially since as soon as I heard it, I started craving dim sum. And since birds of a feather flock together, it wasn't hard for me to rustle up a couple of friends to go test it out for lunch one day.
Surprisingly, Joy Luck only has 3 stars on yelp which seems to be a bit at odds with that Top 5 claim. Did the writer of the original report go on a particularly good day at Joy Luck Palace or were they being overly generous, more so than the 549 reviewers to date on yelp? I consulted with a couple of Chinese friends who are dim sum aficianados and they dismissed the yelp ratings as "that's always for the service, not the food".
Okay, that made me feel better. Sort of. When we arrived, I was surprised to find it wasn't that crowded. We got there during lunch time and usually dim sum places are packed by then. The inside of Joy Luck was pretty spacious, not quite as big as Asian Pearl but still a good size. Plenty of tables, plenty of room for the dim sum carts.
Not that they needed it as it turned out there was some merit to those yelp reviews. I don't expect 4-star service at dim sum places. You sit there, the carts roll on by, you flag the ones you want, they place it on your table, stamp your card and move on. It usually works pretty smoothly. And at first it did. The steam cart came by and we got steamed dumplings and chicken in sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. So far so good.
Sticky Rice Chicken wrapped in banana leaves
Sticky Rice Chicken
Then another steam cart came along and we got more steamed dumplings including my standbys of har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (steamed pork dumplings).
Har Gow
Siu Mai
I was looking for the fried cart though, one that would have the fried shrimp balls, baked pork buns, maybe the imitation crab claw and the pork flaky pastry thingies (I never know what they're called but I know it when I see it). My friend Jenny was looking for the shrimp or beef wrapped in flat rice noodles.
But the carts stopped coming and we were left hanging. There were a couple of carts roaming the restaurant but they looked like the exact same carts we'd already availed ourselves of and offered nothing we hadn't already eaten or passed on. Where was the fried stuff?? I started to wonder if they were just faking us out and whether there really was only 1 dim sum cart and they just swapped out who manned it to make it look like there was more than 1 on patrol.
Shrimp wrapped in rice noodles
But we knew the dim sum we were looking for existed because the tables next to us had them. Finally, I picked up the menu on the table and wondered if we had to order it rather than wait for a cart to make an appearance. So that's what we did, once we managed to flag down the right person to take our order. And that took some doing too. There's a confusing hierarchy regarding the personnel at dim sum places. The most formally dressed ones are usually the ones who total up your bill. Similarly dressed but not quite as natty looking can either be the ones you order from or they fill your water glasses. Never try to order from the person pushing the dim sum cart. If what you're looking for isn't on their cart, they get distressed that they can't give you what you want (especially if you don't know how to ask for it in Chinese because you don't know what it's called and "pork flaky pastry thingie" doesn't translate well) and they look around for one of the nattily-dressed people to pass on to the almost-as-nattily-dressed people to take your order.
Baked Pork Bun
But we finally made it through the hierarchy to get to the correct person and our order came out fairly quickly once we finally managed to put it in. Although the deep fried shrimp balls took awhile and I almost thought they'd forgotten it.
Sesame Balls
The dim sum itself was pretty good although I have to say it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps I'm jaded or just fortunate that there are a lot of good dim sum places where I live so something would have to be pretty stupendous to stand out from the crowd. This was good but I can't say it was so fantastically awesome that I can't wait to go back and get indifferent service again. Now I understand the yelp reviews: good dim sum, okay service.
Fried Shrimp Balls



    1. If you click on the post title "Joy Luck Palace", the link will take you to the address. All of my restaurant and bakery reviews always link to where you can find these places I write about.