Uncounted Chowhounds have been turned away hungry at Imperial Palace, a perpetually packed Flushing destination for Cantonese-style seafood. But there's a worthy alternative that's easier to get into, Lau points out: Sister restaurant East Lake, a block or so west, has an identical menu and executes it just as well as Imperial Palace does.
The signature crab rice—sticky rice steamed with a hacked-up crab, topped with scallions and fried onion and garlic—rocks as hard as the mother ship's version. "The condiments pair perfectly with the subtle flavor of the rice and give it some necessary saltiness," Lau says. "Some people mistake this dish to be about the crab, but to me it’s all about the rice." Imperial Palace is known to embellish its crab rice in occasional specials, and East Lake does the same. Lau recently savored an upgraded variation made of a four-pound Alaskan king crab with an egg custard tucked into the shell, served with crab-infused soy sauce. "I should've taken a picture," he says, "b/c most people were staring at it."
East Lake also nails a Cantonese classic: steamed fish finished with a drizzle of hot oil and soy and a scattering of julienned spring onion. Talk to the servers; they'll hook you up with the catch of the day, like a $25-a-pound ocean fish that Lau found well worth the premium price. Faultlessly fresh, tender but not mushy, it lacked the muddy undertones that mar some lesser fish. "I have been trying to find a decent rendition of this dish for years to no avail," he says, "and this was very good." Other signature dishes are fried chicken with mild, slightly tangy chile sauce and cumin-dusted lamb chops, topped with red and green onion and coconut. "The meat is very nicely tender, and unlike the Sichuan and northern Chinese versions of this dish the cumin flavor is not very strong. The saltiness of the seasoning, the slight cumin flavor and the flavor of toppings, particularly the red onions, come together really nicely." Off the menu, ask about snow pea leaves in egg-white sauce with crab. And if you're planning ahead and going with a group, Monica suggests you consider ordering a whole suckling pig. "I highly recommend it," she says. "My pork-deprived Jewish husband probably ate half of that pig."
Among the many options around New York City, Lau says, "Imperial Palace/East Lake would be where I want to go if you said you can only choose one Chinese restaurant." But he adds a caveat: Go for dinner. "I think they may have another chef at lunch," he said after a recent daytime visit, "b/c everything was executed a lot worse than normal."
East Lake Seafood Restaurant [Flushing]
37-17 Prince Street (near 37th Avenue), Flushing, Queens