Imperial Palace / East Lake Seafood Restaurant – My Favorite Chinese Restaurant in New York
There are probably a couple things I need to clarify about the title of this post.
First, Imperial Palace actually has two branches. Both of which have the same owners, Chinese name (Dong Hu meaning East Lake), logo, food and menu. The only difference is that they are a few blocks apart and have different English names (East Lake vs Imperial Palace). I believe Imperial Palace is the original location as it’s more well-known and also more crowded.
Second, when I say that it is “my favorite Chinese restaurant” it’s kind of like saying it’s “my favorite European restaurant” because China is a huge country with many different types of cuisines, people and dialects that are as unintelligible to each other as English and French. However, at the end of day Imperial Palace / East Lake would be where I want to go if you said you can only choose one Chinese restaurant to go to. With that in mind, as I’ve said before, I’m admittedly biased towards southern Chinese cuisine (most areas Shanghai and south including Singapore / Malaysia and Taiwan) and in particular Cantonese cuisine is my favorite type of Chinese food.
So what is Cantonese cuisine? Cantonese cuisine is from the Guangdong province on the southern coast of China and it’s where Hong Kong is located even though Hong Kong is technically a special administrative region. Because Guangdong is located along the ocean and has a semi-tropical climate, it has a fair amount of everything you want to cook with such as fresh seafood, vegetables, produce and meat. In America, Cantonese cuisine is probably most well known for dim sum, the BBQ meats you see hanging in the windows in Chinatown, wonton noodle soup and chow fun among other things. However, Cantonese cuisine has a huge breadth of types of dishes, more so than any other Chinese cuisine I’ve come across including huge amounts of seafood, meats, desserts, dumplings, noodle dishes, baked goods and too many others to name. Also, the food is actually supposed to be light, fresh and should emphasize the freshness of the ingredients, which has sort of been lost in a lot of American Chinatowns where you will find the food to be somewhat heavy handed and greasy. When done right I find Cantonese cuisine to rival any cuisine in terms of its complexity and flavors.
East Lake / Imperial Palace are known for their family style Cantonese food and in particular are known for their crab rice, but they have a host of other signature dishes that you will see on most people’s tables (most of which I’ll show you). The service is usually pretty good and I find the waiters to be reasonably nice and should have no problems with communication. I’d recommend coming here with at least 4-5 people preferably more like 6-10 because you’ll be able to order more dishes to share.
Here’s what we got:
Winter Melon Soup (Dong Gua Tang):
Winter Melons are a type of big non-sweet melon that is used fairly often in Chinese cuisine. By itself it doesn’t taste like much, but it has a nice texture in soup. The version here had chunks of winter melon, chicken, scallops and a green vegetable that looked like bitter melon, but wasn’t bitter at all. The soup was excellent; it was light and flavorful without being too salty. The ingredients were all quite good too with in particular the chicken was nicely tender. Also, I recommend putting a dash of white pepper in it. 8/10
Fried Chicken with Sauce (Cui Pi Zha Ji):
This is a typical Cantonese preparation of chicken. The chicken looks like it’s a rotisserie chicken, but it’s actually fried. The skin is crispy and flavorful, while the meat is juicy and tender. The sauce they give you tastes like a mild chili sauce that is not spicy and is very slightly tangy. This is a signature dish that you will see on most tables and it is very good here. 8.5/10
Cumin Lamb Chop:
This is an odd dish to be a signature dish because lamb is one meat that is not that common in Cantonese cuisine. It is lamb chops that have been dusted in cumin that are fried and served topped with sautéed red and green onions and golden fried onions and coconut. The meat is very nicely tender and unlike the Sichuan and northern Chinese versions of this dish the cumin flavor is not very strong. The saltiness of the seasoning, the slight cumin flavor and the flavor of toppings particularly the red onions come together really nicely in this dish. 8.5/10
Snow Pea Leaves in Crab Claw Meat Egg White Sauce (Xie Rou Pa Dou Miao):
This is sautéed snow pea leaves that are covered in a sauce made of egg whites and crab claw meat. Snow peas leaves are similar to spinach, but better and the sauce is a lighter sauce that allows you to taste the snow pea leaves more than anything else. I don’t believe this dish is on the menu, but you can order it easily and you will see it on quite a few tables. 8/10
Fried Stuffed Tofu in Dried Scallop Sauce:
The dish is tofu stuffed with shrimp, battered and fried then covered in a light brown sauce that has dried scallops in it. The tofu was perfectly fried where it was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside without being greasy at all. The sauce was savory and flavorful without being gloppy or overly salty; it was the type of subtle flavoring that is classic Cantonese done right. This was an excellent dish. Fyi, I think the English name might be a little different than what I wrote, but it’s close to this. 8.5/10
Garlic Fried Lobster (Bi Feng Tang Chao Xie):
Bi feng tang is a type of typhoon shelter and refers to a specific type of Hong Kong style dishes that you can read about here in my post on Canton Gourmet. This was chopped up lobster that is fried in a garlic batter topped with fried garlic, onions and chili. Surprisingly, I’d say their version may have been better than the last time I had it at Canton Gourmet (it’s their signature dish) as it was lighter and less greasy. The batter was nicely flavorful and the meat was tender and sweet. Overall, this was quite good. 8.25/10
Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu):
These are basically sweet and sour fried pork chops. The pork chops were slightly crispy and nicely tender. The sauce was good, it was sweet and wasn’t too gloppy although it was pretty watery in texture and I think I prefer my sauce with a little more starch, but it was a good rendition of the dish nonetheless. 8.25/10
Crab Rice (Pang Xie Nuo Mi):
This is the dish that most people come here for. It is sticky rice that has been steamed in a big steamer with a whole crab that has been cut up. The juices of the crab run into the rice and flavor the rice. It is then topped diced scallions and golden fried garlic and onions. Because the rice is steamed it has a wonderful al dente texture that I love and it nicely savory from the juices of the crab. The condiments pair perfectly with the subtle flavor of the rice and give it some necessary saltiness. Some people mistake this dish to be about being about the crab, but to me it’s all about the rice. The crab hasn’t been seasoned much and has somewhat been drained of its flavor by having all of the juices run into the rice, so it’s all about the rice for me. This is a great dish. 8.5/10
Cantonese Style Steamed Fish (Qing Zheng Yu):
The typical Cantonese preparation of fish is to get very fresh fish, steam it and then pour hot oil and soy sauce over it with julienned spring onions. When done correctly, it is probably my favorite preparation of cooked fish because it allows you to taste the quality of the fish, but at the same time give it a slight kick up in terms of flavor. I saw this fish going to another table and it looked very good, so I asked our waiter about it. He told me that it was a more expensive ocean fish that costs $25 per lbs and said it was much better than the regular cheaper fish. We got a 2 pound lbs fish and he was right; the meat was very fresh tasting without any fishy or muddy flavor and the flesh was tender, but still has some texture to it (i.e. it wasn’t mushy). I unfortunately forgot what the name of the fish was, but if you ask them and tell them you want a good fish I’m sure they can direct you to it. This was the surprise of the night as I have been trying to find a decent rendition of this dish for years to no avail and this was very good. 8.5/10
Red Bean Soup (Tang Shui):
They gave us a complimentary tang shui (literally means sugar water) that was red bean soup. This was a good version, the soup was flavorful and had some thickness to it (I don’t like it when it’s too watery). They also put tapioca in it and definitely used some orange rinds as you could taste a slight citrus flavor. Overall, it was pretty good. 7.75/10
Overall, this is a great restaurant and definitely worth checking out. Also, for everyone mourning the loss of South China Garden, Imperial Palace / East Lake is a replacement for you as I think the food is a bit better than SCG.
East Lake Seafood:
37-17 Prince St
Flushing, NY 11354
13613 37th Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
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