A couple of weeks ago someone -- Fara I think -- wanted to know where to find "authentic Chinese" in the Triangle. I responded that there was no authentic Chinese in the Triangle. Well, I spoke too soon. The wife and I had heard whispers about Red Palace. A beach vacation in Wilmington finally gave us the pretext to stop in. The place is located in Raleigh strip mall hell (3945 New Bern Avenue), but the moment our food arrived we knew we had found the Chinese food we have long been seeking and long despaired of finding in North Carolina. A Szichaun restaurant, Red Palace offers an enormous menu with emphasis on the spicy and the exotic -- eel, sea cucumber, frog, turtle, tripe, duck tongue, jellyfish, hotpots, you name it. There are plenty of dishes that are entirely new to me, like "stir-fried shredded potato," "yam-stuffed duck," "stir-fried cumin lamb" and "flambeed chitlins."
We had lunch both coming and going, and took away some food, allowing us to try a good deal -- Szichaun pork stew, Szichuan fish stew, dong po ro, sizzling orange chicken, tea-smoked duck, walnut shrimp. Everything was delicious, most especially the tea-smoked duck, which I highly recommend for its deep smokiness and precise tea flavor. I was impressed also that the stews managed to be ragingly spicy without being merely spicy; there was a complexity of flavor working underneath the spice and rounding it out. My wife gave the place her ultimate compliment -- that it could probably survive in Taiwan. The cuisine is typically Szichaun, which is to say extremely spicy, a bit heavy, designed to stick to your ribs and to be eaten with plenty of rice.
Portions are enormous. Two dishes were more than we could eat in a sitting.
We had an interesting talk with the chef about the wretched-looking and stereoptypical buffet also on offer. He said survival depends on catering to the kind of people who like glow-in-the-dark sweet and sour sauce on their McNuggets. He said that he had tried to upgrade the quality of the buffet, but business immediately began to taper. Sad, sad, sad. You could tell that the chef was a craftsman who took pride in his large and varied menu, and that the buffet was a painful concession. I was amazed, in any case, by his ability to ape the worst cliches of Americanized Chinese food, to make the food look so correctly terrible.
The website is: redpalace.tripod.com.
Sinophile (formerly David A.)