We tried out the dim sum at Zen Peninsula this morning and were overall really impressed and quite pleased with our visit. I would rank it among the top dim sum houses in Millbrae, perhaps even the top one, though still a step short of Koi Palace (though to be fair, we didn't try any of Zen Peninsula's "special" dishes which might put them equal to Koi Palace). I definitely favor Zen Peninsula over Hong Kong Flower Lounge and the newly opened The Kitchen.
Big square room with some planters, nice chandeliers and not much decoration – just one big wall covered in red velvet with a gold symbol/character on it. Right next to the waiting area are their fish tanks with large live shrimp, a truly enormous lobster in solitary splendor and a rather creepy pile of absolutely enormous crabs – they looked like with one good jump they could hook a claw over the side and make a break for it :) Part way through our meal a party was seated next to us that ordered the crab and the live crab was brought over on a tray for them to look like before it was cooked. That was quite a show!
Service here was great, all the cart and tray ladies were really friendly and most were happy to make an attempt to translate to English for us the dishes we didn't recognize on sight. I liked their house tea tremendously and they weren't skimpy with the leaves, it brewed up to a nice dark hue almost immediately. They were also happy to bring us more chili paste and soy sauce when we ran short. Initially I was worried that the small table we got was right next to the beverage station, but that ended up working out well for us since we could always find someone that way – and we had no shortage of cart/tray ladies coming to us.
On to the dishes:
*a giant sticky rice "burrito" – this is a dish I haven't had before, it was out of a steam cart and initially I thought it was just a bigger version of sticky rice in lotus leaf that we're used to seeing for dim sum. However, the server unwrapped it for us before serving (it took her a good few minutes to cut the string and unwrap the leafy package – and what came out was a HUGE roll of sticky rice – much bigger than I expected). She cut it into slices for us and each one had an outer roll of sticky rice with steamed egg in the center and smallish pieces of meat – chicken maybe? It honestly didn't have a lot of flavor on its own, but it was certainly filling, seemed like it might be a family's light breakfast food?
*regular sized sticky rice in lotus leaf – quite tasty, once we found the dish we were actually looking for! Nice slices of sausage, shrimp, egg in the filling.
*siu mai – keeping with the theme of the day, these four dumplings were plump with the pork filling, and came out perfectly hot and juicy. Some of the best siu mai I've had.
*taro puff – I was originally worried when I got this since the outer "bee's nest" looked very dark, almost to the point of being burnt, and not a huge cloud of crackly threads. However, when we tasted them, we found them to be nicely crispy, not burnt at all and not overly greasy, again with a very generous filling of pork inside the layer of taro. The sauce used with the pork wasn't as dark as I'm used to in these, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. These were great.
*pork in fried dough dumpling – these were ok, probably one of my less favorite of the dishes we had. I thought they could actually use a bit more frying time as the dough was a little soft/gelatinous for me. Still not bad though.
*shrimp and chive dumpling – Excellent, one of my favorite bites of the meal. These were three big crescent shaped dumplings in beautifully translucent wrappers filled generously with fresh chive and shrimp. They held up well in spite of the thin wrapper – their steamed dishes were fantastic.
*pork in puff-pastry (sort of a flattened looking spring roll shape?) – Nicely layered pastry and just a bit of savory pork. These were wonderful and we could have devoured more orders of them if not for all the other great things!
*Chinese broccoli – We never did see this get to us on a tray so we requested it from one of the ladies with a tray ordering it as "gai lan". We were pleasantly surprised when a moment later one of the black jacketed supervisors approached and asked if we wanted to put in an order for Chinese broccoli. We told him we did and it arrived shortly thereafter – this was the easiest it's ever been for us to order a dim sum dish that we weren't seeing come around that we particularly wanted. Usually we have to order 2-3 times at other places to get the order to go through. The broccoli itself when it came out was just fine – not a standout, but exactly what we were looking for.
*daan taat – my favorite part of the meal. The crust was many, many layers of flaky pastry and the filling was a light yellow/creamy color but was just the perfect consistency of barely set custard without being too liquidy or too stiff. Definitely a winner. Both pastry items we had here were excellent.
*fried sesame ball – red bean paste filling. This was nicely filled – a good ratio for the size of the sesame balls. Tasty and sweet note to end the meal.
Overall, as I said, we were very impressed. Everything was done at a minimum "ok" and most things exceeded that. Steamed items and bakery type items were standouts. Everything was generously filled and came nice and fresh, nothing was circulating too long. Price-wise, we had 10 dishes for $35 including tax (before tip), so I think their prices are generally in line with other places – and it was definitely a good value for the portions/quality of their ingredients. This is a great place to go if you're not up to battling the crowds at Koi Palace. We'll be back.
Personal Top Dim Sum rankings:
1. Mr. Fong's
2. Koi Palace
3. Zen Peninsula
4. Fook Yuen
5. Hong Kong East Ocean