Imperial Palace has a more upscale atmosphere than some Flushing spots (not that that takes away one bit from the quality of Little Pepper and Spicy and Tasty’s food), so much so that the cleanliness and brightly lit tablecloths could even satisfy some of my more germaphobic friends if I dare take them to the neighborhood. Cantonese is a cuisine that is most similar to the “Americanized” Chinese food that took hold of our nation decades ago, though to compare your local Panda ___ with the southern regional food done right and traditionally is ludicrous.
Cantonese food values quality of ingredients, has a focus on fresh seafood, and is much milder than Schezuan. American Cantonese, due to immigrants having to substitute and improvise with unfamiliar and often less fresh ingredients is masked in gloppy sauces. Imperial Palace is considered to be the area’s best of the former type of Cantonese and as some other, wiser tables knew, freshness reigns supreme – they got to choose their fish from an aquarium. It was then brought to the table for inspection before being prepared.
With less insight into the menu, we sampled a couple things that sounded good. A solid, mild orange beef which managed to be neither greasy or too heavy, a plate of salt and pepper crispy prawns with chilies that only suffered from a messy backwards method to eat it: the shell on prawn was battered and fried, so you had to teeth the crisp off before getting to the meat under the shell. I tried eating the shell but it was a bit too tough and seemed like it could get caught in my throat. Both were very good, though milder than my usual taste so I’d choose some more daring dishes next time round (perhaps the oysters and fajita plate mentioned in this Times review).
But, I am really teasing you with all this talk of ambiance and history, because there is one major reason to go to Imperial Palace. All the reviews, blogs and word of mouth will name it: Dungeness crab over sticky rice!! A huge, steaming dish of hard shelled crabs which are tasty enough, but the delicate, indescribable rice that has cooked in the crustacean’s juices…. incredible. The huge menu might be overwhelming, and require a sort of point to what looks good experimentation, but this dish is an absolute a must.