Award-winning Panda Palace dishes out authentic Sichuan cuisine
By: Suzanne Corbett
Striving for excellence with a dedication to create authentic Chinese cuisine has made Panda Palace renown, earning it the coveted recognition as one of America’s top 100 Chinese restaurants. Panda Palace earned the honor through its use of genuine ingredients and recipes prepared and presented to deliver a dining experience not often found outside of China.
“We’re the only Chinese restaurant (in St Louis) that specializes in Sichuan cuisine – the dishes from Southwestern China,” said Panda Palace’s owner, James Zhang, who recently reopened the operation after a brief closure for remodeling that added a buffet area, which will be opening soon.
“Sichuan dishes’ typical characteristics are hot and spicy, but it’s also known for non-hot specialties, such as Tea Smoked Duck, ” Zhang said, adding that the dish takes three days to prepare. “It’s one of our specialties by our chef, Chef Luo. No other place offers this dish as we do. ”
Considered a master of Sichuan cuisine, Chef Luo’s Tea Smoked Duck arrives bronzed, with crisp skin, moist meat and an aroma that imparts the multiple layers of flavors involved in the dish’s creation. Sichuan-style Lamb Ribs and Cumin Beef are two other unexpected culinary treats. Each has a subtle, balanced spiciness that is produced from a custom blend of spices that includes cumin.
“Cumin was introduced in China about 10 to15 years ago form Southeast Asia,” Zhang explained. “It’s become a popular spice within the Sichuan province.”
While Panda Palace’s focus is on Sichuan foods, the menu features a full page of traditional Chinese American dishes, such as General Tao’s Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, Lo Mein and perhaps the most famous of Sichuan dishes: Kung Pao Chicken.
“Our Kung Pao Chicken is made authentically – not over-sauced or heavily sweetened,” said Zhang.
Kung Pao is an excellent example of how Panda Palace caters to customers who enjoy Chinese American dishes while introducing traditional flavors derived from genuine Chinese ingredients, like brown rice wine vinegar. According the Chef Luo, brown rice wine vinegar’s milder taste and tanginess is the key to his Sweet and Sour Fish’s delicate sauce, a delightful, tangy burnt orange-colored sauce that complements the texture and light taste of the tempura-battered flounder.
Gourmands should try the Hot Pot and Dry Pot (wok) entrees. Hot Pot, a popular and trendy dish in China, might best be described as a combination soup and fondue – a hot broth with items that can be added and dipped into the pot. Dry pot, which resembles a mini-wok placed over a flaming stand, makes a dramatic presentation and is portioned to share. Dry Pot is spicy hot, but that should not stop diners from giving it a try; those who shy away from a lot of heat can simply ask the chef to hold the hot chilies.
Panda Palace is happy to cook to order to satisfy personal tastes without sacrificing the flavor integrity of the dishes. As Zhang said, “We make the dishes the right way – the way you’ll get it in China.”
Panda Palace Chinese Restaurant
17 Nationalway Shopping Center • Manchester
3-9 p.m., Sun.; 5-9:30 p.m., Mon.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tues.-Sat.
Carry out, delivery and catering available