Thursday, January 31, 2008

Get Out! Goes West: Peking Palace

Peking Palace
11110 East Sprague Ave.
Spokane Valley, WA

(originally appeared on Making Flippy Floppy blog in 2005)

It's been woefully said by many Coeur d'Alene folks that there just aren't any really great Chinese joints in this town. Whether or not you agree, there truly are limited options here, ranging from fairly digestible to just plain scary. I won't name names here. The point is, in order to really satiate that nagging craving for the perfect Chinese meal, we must go west to the Chinese Restaurant Mecca of Spokane. Just drive up Division Street alone and you will run into at least 30 places where you can eat Moo Shu and Kung Pao to your hearts content.

Although I have yet to try all the Chinese places in Spokane (is it even possible?), I've eaten at quite a few and so far the best of the best is the divine Peking Palace, out in the Valley, located conveniently near Castle Adult Superstore on East Sprague. We've been making pilgimages to the Palace for many years now, and I have never once left hungry or unimpressed. The place itself has a certain over-the-top regal quality. Its clear the owners take pride in their establishment. There are two huge dragon-dog statues that greet you with huge, leering smiles as you enter the lobby.

You can waste a few dollars playing pull-tabs while waiting for your table (the place is always packed.) Or browse the curiosity cabinet full of happy little Buddhas, ivory chopsticks, and other fun tchotchkes. The main dining room is resplendent with ultra-classic Chinese kitsch. The booths are velveteen pink and overstuffed. The ceiling is carved with dragons and lilies and colored in gold. The lanterns are huge, crisp and white with long red tassels. If you're lucky, you'll arrive on one of the nights they show Chinese TV on the huge pull-down TV screen. Otherwise, absorb the chaotic noise coming from the kitchen, where hurried chefs and waitresses yammer away loudly at each other in Mandarin, and pots and pans beat each other up. With the insane amount of audio-visual stimulus happening here it can be a bit overwhelming, but once the food arrives, everything else in the world melts away.

Ahhhh, the food. That's why we make the twenty-five-minute trek time after time. The menu is monumentally extensive, featuring 28 combination dinner options alone. Let's take the No. 21, for example (a regular order of ours.) First of all, this is the only Chinese place I've ever been to here in the Inland Northwest that gives you the option of choosing Egg Flower or Hot and Sour Soup. Naturally, we always choose the Hot and Sour (since its Egg-Flower-only virtually everywhere else.) Sometimes it can be a challenge to make it though one little cup of this concoction, so intense are the flavors. The thin threads of pork, bamboo, and shitaake mushroom mingle in a soup that first sweetly seduces the tastebuds, then pleasantly tortures them with an afterburn of hot pepper. Warning: this is a sinus-clearing soup that will make you sweat and cry. It's never much of a wait before the main platter comes.

The No. 21 features six (six!) different food items on a plate bigger than the keyboard I'm currently typing this on. It's a giant amount of food, and a colorful feast for the eyes as well since everything looks incredibly fresh and mouth-watering. The almond chicken is chunks of tender white meat fried in a perfectly cooked light batter and covered in a rich and boldly flavorful almond gravy, then sprinkled with a generous amount of almond dust. The same gravy makes an appearance here on the Egg Foo Young, perfectly complimenting the steaming patty of egg and greens. The sweet and sour pork is actually tender (too many places serve tough pork) and is covered in a deep red sauce complete with sweet pineapple chunks and a maraschino cherry on top.

The fried prawns (4) are plump and meaty, and most importantly, de-veined (I am usually leery of prawns for that reason.) The egg roll is always cooked to perfection, with no accompanying puddles of grease, something unusually hard to accomplish. Cocktail sauce and eye-wateringly hot mustard are provided for your dipping pleasure. Lastly, no No. 21 would be complete without a ball of fried rice, covered generously in BBQ Pork shavings and scallions.

Hardcore is the only world that can describe the sheer power and size of a meal like this. So vast are the portions that I have never been able to finish my entire meal, and even Lou has only finished his once. It's not a problem, since a take-out box just means you get to re-live the experience in a few hours. All this for just a bump over ten bucks, plus free hot tea. Worth mentioning is the fact that the service is always fast, fuss-free and efficient. A lovely but English-deficient waitress once stood at our table agog at Lou's rice-eating skills and remarked "Ohhhh, you give good chopstick!", a phrase I've repeated back to him many times since. Your bill comes printed out of the machine in black chinese characters, which is pretty darn cool.

After letting your food settle, you might want to waddle over into the fabulous Peking Palace Lounge, which serves the cutest little (but strongest) rum and cokes, and has a dark and seedy not-remodeled-since-the-60's sort of vibe. Also, I hear they put on a pretty rowdy Karaoke on Thursday and Friday nights. In a pinch, we will occasionally settle for Chinese dinner here in CDA (usually Canton, god bless 'em.) But even with gas prices hovering below $3.50 a gallon, its quite worth the short trip over to the Valley to satisfy that unique Peking Palace jones.

No comments: