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Emperor of China (Louisville KY)
||210 Holiday Manor Center, US Highway 42,|
Louisville, KY 40222
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(4) page: 23 and 24
Exiting from our taxi, we began the challenge discussed in the On Menus: Around the Country. We spoke to the first chap at this restaurant bringing us to our table. It was the manager, Mr. Roland Wong. He told us that he worked at the restaurant since it opened in 1984, and in the Empress of China or sister restaurant before that. He told us there were two master chefs and that the restaurants were owned by one lady, a Mrs. Ai-Ling Kuo Wang. One chef had forty years of experience, the other ten years more.
As to culinary certification or experience, Master Chef Wang was certified in China in 1970 and Executive Chef Guan--though cooking longer--got his certufucation in 1985. He also told us that this particular restaurant received honorable mention with a 'Best of Louisville Award' in both 1989 and 1991. Maybe those we asked for where to eat in Louisville have short food memories in this bourbon-bathed city.
This is a this tri-level two hundred-plus seat eatery. Maybe they those we queried did eat here then forgot what we saw on first arriving, that most food looked over-breaded and over fried, but not greasy. Was this place ancient history, passed on--like the grandfather of the lady who recommended it? Or was Ochsner's Pocket Guide to the Finest Restaurants in the World (1994-1995) correct?
It certainly had to be better than City Wok across the street from the Kentucky Center for The Art. The exterior was lovely as can bee seen by the photograph in the hard copy of this issue, however, the interior was dated but pleasant. It was also a mite worn. We were taken to and seated in a closed booth, sort of kitsch with a Chinese-looking ceiling. The wine list was more sophisticated than at most Chinese eateries; the menu was, too. Challenging the chef, we told our host that we would select half the dishes and wanted the chef, not our waitress or him, to complement them with an additional set of dishes that they are proudest of, those liked by local Chinese guests, or any equivalent reason.
The take-out menu, which we picked up on our way in, said they received four stars from the Courier-Journal, no date given. We felt hopeful. We ordered the Sea Delicacy appetizer; it was a plateful of delicious jellyfish with sliced orange, coleslaw with almost no dressing, shredded cucumbers, and garlic, all in a vinegar sauce. It came garnished with parsley, carrot curls, and a bright red cherry. The chef had selected this item, and it was an excellent choice. Next came Pot Stickers, our choice. The dough was tender, the stuffing tasty, and these traditional dim sum-type foods and their dipping sauce were perfect.
At the next table, an elderly lady ordered Beef Lo Mein from the lunch menu. It came with Egg Drop Soup and Fried Rice, we were told it was a very popular choice, but it did not entice us. The Mandarin Bar-B-Q Beef Ribs, touted as the most popular meat item, was chosen for us. We wondered if they’d look as unappetizing as the Lo Mein but were quickly surprised as they were unbelievably terrific. Cut more like flank meat used for soup, that is across several bones, these grill-marked, marinated, and still rare beauties. On a return trip they could be our first choice, too.
The Pork with Szechuan String Beans, a personal favorite, were made beautifully–the beans green came very crisp--but it was made with ordinary beans, not Chinese long beans. Perhaps these are unavailable here or during that early summer season. The Sizzling Rice Soup did just that on golden rice crusts and under lots of chicken, shrimp, scallops, and several Chinese vegetables. The Hot Pepper Chicken says, in the menu, that it is fried in a light batter. It was the only dish, among the dozen we tasted on two different visits on this trip to this city, that disappointed. The batter was thicker than usual, a bit too brown, and these over-fried items swam in a huge puddle of sauce. Perhaps worrying about his Caucasian guests, the chef used only white meat. Dark meat is juicier and tastier and does not dry out as quickly under the intense heat deep-frying requires.
On one occasion, we ended with San Shan Shark’s Fin Soup and were pleased with its flavor and contents, even though it looked as though bird’s nests had been substituted for the fins. Their Yunnan Chicken was pan-fried with lots of watercress and could not have been better. The Shrimp with Lobster Sauce reminded of a classic of the 1960's. As to the Hot Braised Fish, it could please any diner, and would have pleased a purist more if the head pointed at the host and not out the door.
Our meals always came with the requested Green Tea. One of them ended with Glazed Apples and had lots of very fine Chinese food. The other one did so with Chilled Lychee’s. Both were proof that good food is available outside of big cities that have large Chinese populations. Tony, tell your customers that fine Chinese food can be had at your older Chinese restaurant; we will tell everyone else.