That Food Guy
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
  Imperial Palace- Anchorage, Alaska
Imperial Palace
400 Sitka St Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 274-9167

A little bit of Los Angeles’s 1950’s China Town is alive and well right here in Anchorage, Alaska. It isn’t an exact copy but it is the closest thing I have come across in many, many years. Adjacent to the Merrill Field Motel, it is a bit off the main street through town, and somewhat hard to see. I first saw the restaurant on my first trip to Alaska more than twenty years ago. It had always been an item on the to-do list but somehow always overlooked at least until today. We made it a planned stop on our way home from a tour of Whittier via the shared railroad tunnel and Girdwood.

For southbound traffic it is a simple turn but for the northbound vehicle the divided highway means a turn early to go around the block. There is adequate parking in the shared lot with the Merrill Field Motel. The interior is decorated mildly in an Oriental motif, inviting without being garish with seating for about forty people. The lighting was subdued but thankfully not dark. The restaurant was not crowded so the noise level was very subdued, always a positive feature.

I saw two people, a woman who took care of the dining room and a man who worked the kitchen. I could not see the back kitchen area and there were perhaps others to help at busy times but we were certainly never aware of them. That is not to say service was poor. The woman was quick, personable and accurate in orders and was frequently nearby to refill glasses and to see if anything additional was needed or desired. Food service from the kitchen was completed in a reasonable time as well.

As I mentioned above, like a bit of old Los Angeles Chinatown; that is where I learned what Americanized Chinese food was all about more than fifty years ago. The storefront takeout emporiums and now popular all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants dropped the quality of the food enough that I hardly bear any resemblance to what I remember. A particular example is the so-called New York-style sweet and sour dishes. Now nothing more that some breaded meat morsels with a red sauce drizzled over it, it pales in comparison to the delicious and colorful sweet and sour presentations of the Chinatown restaurants with green and red Bell pepper, white bits of onion and the happy yellow of pineapple. With that in mind, we went to the Imperial Palace to see what they had to offer.

The menu has a bit of nostalgia. In addition to entrée items, the menu offers family dinners, a combination of entrees and side dishes at a per person price. All that was missing were phrases like, “…with three you get egg roll.” We ordered tea while we perused the menu. We were quickly served a pot of piping hot green tea. At long last, three people of different minds, we ordered from the Dinner For One and the Combination Dinner For One columns; something for every taste. Sister Pattie Sue ordered the Szechwan Pork ($13.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice). My nephew, Ron, ordered the Mongolian Beef and Teriyaki Chicken combo ($14.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice). I, on the other hand, ordered the Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork ($13.95 Served with eggroll and pork fried rice).

Our order taken, we sat back to wait. Almost immediately we were served bowls of egg flower soup. The soup was not mentioned in the menu but it seemed to be included. It was a nice hot soup with lots of vegetables and egg flowers in a savory broth. It was a tasty appetizer for the food to come. Pattie Sue’s Szechwan Beef was served, as were the other dinners, on a platter. The greater half was the Szechwan Beef, the remainder, the pork fried rice. An egg roll, sliced diagonally, framed the presentation. The hot peppers made for a spicy dish but not too hot to be enjoyable. The vegetables were cooked but still crisp. The beef was tasty, tender and not chewy. The fried rice had a nice flavor. Portions were more than adequate and a goodly portion of Pattie Sue’s dinner went home in a Styrofoam box.

Nephew Ron’s Mongolian Beef and Teriyaki Chicken shared a platter with a serving of pork fried rice in the middle. The sliced egg roll also framed the dish. Ron found the Mongolian beef to be tender and tasty with enough spice to give it the kick he loves but not too spicy to be enjoyed. The Teriyaki Chicken was tender and had a good flavor but he says it had a bit too much teriyaki sauce and that detracted from the flavor of the chicken. He added that if her were to go there again he would order the Mongolian Beef alone and forego the Teriyaki Chicken.

My Chicken Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork shared a patter with a serving of Pork Fried Rice; again, all framed with a sliced eggroll. Serving size was more than adequate, perhaps more than I should have eaten in the one sitting. The chow mein was a medley of vegetables and chicken served over crisp fried noodles just the way it should be. The sauce was flavorful just like he chow mein dishes of old Chinatown. Slightly thickened juice of the fried chicken and the vegetables provided the flavorful basis for the sauce. The vegetables were tender crisp, the chicken tasty and the noodles added a crispy counterpoint. The eggrolls were composed mostly of cabbage but had a good
flavor. They had been fried crispy but were not greasy or oily. They did benefit for a dip in the accompanying sweet and sour sauce (I do miss the old-fashioned cocktail sauce with a dollop of Chinese hot mustard in the center). The fried rice was flavorful with bits of vegetable and fried egg. The rice is American style, fluffy and really requires a fork to eat it. If you want o use chop sticks they would work well with the chow mein and the sweet and sour but the rice would be another matter entirely. The Sweet and Sour Pork were excellent. It was colorful with the vegetables, pineapple and sweet and sour sauce. It was well cooked, well seasoned and a pleasure to eat. The food on my plate had similar appearance and taste of the food of old time Chinatown.

The restaurant and its facilities were neat and clean. Dining was in a comfortable atmosphere. The service was excellent. The food was good and evoked memories of past meals with family and friends. We all enjoyed our meals and we will most likely be back again for another go at the local incarnation of old Chinatown.

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