Saturday, October 03, 2009

Dish on Dining: Hong Kong Flower Lounge

Going Beyond Your Average Dim Sum
51 Millbrae Ave. (at El Camino Real), Millbrae
Near Millbrae BART
PH: 650.692.6666
Open daily for dim sum, lunch and dinner
Reservations (for dinner or large parties for dim sum), major credit cards accepted

I just realized that a couple of the restaurants I took my Mom to last week had a distant link to the once popular Hong Kong Flower Lounge. Earlier this week I blogged about our dinner at Hong Kong Lounge (in the former spot of Hong Kong Flower Lounge of San Francisco), and today I’m going to talk about our dim sum adventure at Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae.

Even though this restaurant has kept the name of the popular restaurant from the late 1980s, it’s been under the ownership of the Mayflower Group, another Hong Kong chain, for the last two years. Still, it’s retained a lot of the look and charm of a traditional Hong Kong tea house.

We had a real family dim sum experience last Saturday when I went with my Mom, my uncle and aunt who lives in San Leandro, and my aunt and cousin, who were visiting from Los Angeles. Hong Kong Flower Lounge remains a popular spot for dim sum, so there was a crowd waiting for tables when we arrived at noon. (They have a large dining area on two floors, and what looks like an ante room in the front bar/lounge area.)

But what was interesting was I noticed that people don’t seem to have much patience. When numbers were called, many of the parties had already given up and left. (I’m guessing some went to the nearby Fook Yuen, another popular dim sum spot just a block north on El Camino Real, or The Kitchen, also in Millbrae.) Whatevs, this just meant our wait for a table for six was maybe 20-30 minutes. (Yes, it’s no where near the crazy crowds of Koi Palace in Daly City.)

Dim sum at Hong Kong Flower Lounge are pushed around in carts or carried around on trays by servers. (Prices are $2.60 for small plates, $3.20 for medium plates, $4 for large plates, and $6 for special orders.) You can also make special requests with your server, which is actually how my family went. Lucky for me, my aunt and cousin from Los Angeles are originally from Hong Kong (just like my Mom) and they still live there half the time of the year.

So they ordered a few dishes that I’ve never tried before. Even without their orders, I found some interesting looking dim sum in the carts that I’ve never seen at other restaurants or even on my previous visits here (I’ve eaten dim sum here in the past under previous management). So thumbs up for the variety at the current Hong Kong Flower Lounge.

One of the first items my Mom ordered was the joong, which is boiled sticky rice with filling. I don’t know if my Mom ordered two orders or if this was just one, but everyone at our table was amazed by the size. It was also very tasty, with the fresh rice infused with the flavors of Chinese sausages, chicken, mushrooms and salted duck egg.

As you walk in to the main dining room, there’s a cook station where a server is prepping some of the specialty fried dishes, like very thin crepes made into pancakes. We got an order of the scallion pancakes, which is actually a Northern Chinese specialty. I didn’t try it because it looked oily, and most of my family agreed that it wasn’t the best.

There were tons of fried stuff to be eaten because my Mom, unlike me, doesn’t discriminate against deep-fried or fatty foods. So she ordered things like a plate of Chinese-style fried chicken wings and was easily convinced by a server to try the fried sea mullet fish. The fried mullet didn’t look very appetizing because somehow it was fried but the crispy exterior remained snow white. I did try one piece out of curiosity, and while the fish was tender, it wasn’t very crispy.

We did get a few regular dim sum dishes, such as siu mai or shrimp-pork dumplings (my standby), meatballs (my cousin’s standby), and cheong fun or flat noodles with barbeque pork filling. All of these were fresh and good, but as expected and not exceptional.

I should note that we had an excellent server who spoke Cantonese to my family and joked around with my relatives. I’m guessing this isn’t the typical service at Hong Kong Flower Lounge because I have to say I saw a lot of tables get ignored or people sitting around with no food. So while I felt like our table was special, I did wonder what the experience would be if we didn’t speak Chinese?

Just something to keep in mind in this bloodsport of dim sum dining.

Back to the food: we also had two varieties of savory pudding cakes. Typically you’ll see the pan-fried turnip cakes, but our family likes to eat it steamed (which most dim sum restaurants don’t bother doing because they think Americans like everything fried). It was served in a cute ramekin and I really enjoyed the freshness of the grated daikon mixed with the various ingredients. My cousin prefers the mai tai gou, which is like the turnip cakes but is made with water chestnuts instead.

Another special item requested by my aunt from Hong Kong was called lo bok sou, which is like the turnip cakes except it’s made like a turnover. We saw something similar in the carts, but my aunt didn’t like the filling in that version so the waiter put in an order for us. It took awhile, but when it came out it was piping hot and the turnip filling was sweet and tender. I really enjoyed this and will remember to ask for this in the future.

My other aunt had a craving for the ginger pickled pig’s feet. I know, only someone raised on this can really have a craving for this dish, which is customarily served at the one-month birthday parties for Chinese children. The dish consists of pig hooves marinated and stewed in a sweet ginger sauce with boiled eggs. The bowl came in the typical dark brown soup. I didn’t try this dish.

Near the end of our lunch, my Mom ordered a claypot rice dish. Again, this took awhile to come out but when it did, it was amazing. The rice was cooked with large pieces of chicken and shiitake mushroom. The rice was so fresh and fragrant. My uncle kept marveling at the price — just $4 — and kept saying how he would be happy to come to dim sum and just order this dish. (He also noted how pissed off the servers would be if he held a table just eating this one dish.)

I think because we ate so many rice-based dishes, we were pretty full. Of course, that didn’t stop my Mom from ordering two joong (the sweet versions) that she was going to carry on her flight back home to Hawaii the next day. (The total for our table was about $75, which is excellent for six people.)

Through the years, Hong Kong Flower Lounge has been a gathering place for families on the Peninsula. Its kitchen continues to produce fresh and decent dim sum that’s always satisfying and in a few instances, revelatory. They have some interesting dishes that go beyond the typical dim sum varieties. You just need to ask.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (A little something different)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Hong Kong Flower Lounge on Urbanspoon

Other dim sum reviews:
Asian Pearl: Dim Sum that Offers Few Jewels
Koi Palace: Dim Sum Gem Still Going Strong
King of Kings: The Working Man’s (or Woman’s) Dim Sum Joint”


Palidor said...

All the dishes look very nice. I find at most dim sum restaurants, the quality of the dishes is hit or miss.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Every so often, I get a craving for Chinese pickled pig's feet. I especially love the eggs boiled in the vinegar.

Haven't been to HK Flower Lounge for dim sum, but I felt the quality of the food there was pretty good. Here in Kuching, there is no good dim sum. If we were back in San Jose, though, we'd probably just hit Mayflower in Milpitas.

foodhoe said...

that sounds like such a lovely feast with your family and mom! especially cool to have native speakers who can order the good stuff...

Jenster said...

Those photos look delicious, especially the glistening rice in the joong.

Although I don't speak very much Cantonese, I use as much as I can when we go out for dim sum here in Seattle. I do find that most servers will give me better service if I smile and speak a few words of Cantonese. Once during dim sum there appeared to be a run on steamed char siu bao (my kids' favorite) and the carts would quickly run out of them even before they reached our section. I started telling a very busy server in Cantonese how disappointed my kids were not to have char siu bao. She left her cart by us, headed into the kitchen and came back with three orders and big smile for us. Thank goodness my Cantonese is good for something! :)