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Restaurants & Bars

Empire- Cantonese and Dim Sum Lunch in Portland Me. 10/22/15

opinionatedchef | Oct 24, 201511:08 AM     5

Maybe I went into this place with too-high expectations. After all, we DO have some v good dim sum and Cantonese places in boston.
Empire was our re-fueling stop yesterday for our trip from Boston to Rockland. My goal was to try a broad range of items so I could know whether to include Empire on the docket when we return to P for 5 days in e. Nov. We walked out 'less $95' and I have to say, that was a surprise in and of itself. Bao Bao, which we adore, has thrice run us considerably less than that. We were def full but not uncomfortably so, and we figured our 'little bit of this and that' leftovers would make good travel breakfast.
Our overall impression of Empire was positive; the sunny room was comfortable with booths and banquettes and the unique Asian themed décor made for a pleasant surrounding. Service was friendly but not the most efficient. And the food- well, I was thrilled to have less soy in familiar dishes, but was very surprised at the amount of sweetness present in so many dishes. Orange Beef, Eggplant, dumpling dipping sauce, Honey Walnut Shrimp (the one dish that warranted the sweetness, obviously.)

Highlights :
--Pork filled Steamed Brioche Buns- compared to the best in boston (Winsor Dim Sum in Chinatown)the dough was quite wonderfully rich, moist and eggy ; the filling less sweet (yay) than usual. Empire's 2=$5 (Winsor's 3=$3.50)
--Flounder filet fried, in Black Bean Sauce- much less salty than other black bean sauces(yay) and nicely fried; striking presentation in fried flounder skeleton(frame) basket
-- Honey Walnut Shrimp- crunchy, moist and full of shrimp flavor. Surround it with non-sugary dishes and it will be especially stellar.

V.Good:
--Szechuan Pickled Cuke spears- again, delightfully less salty than usual. And just the right mount of heat for us non-Dragon mouths.
--I still can't get over how much sweet goop they put on their otherwise-would-have-been-really-good Orange Beef. Try ordering it with " very little sauce" or, maybe better yet, 'sauce on the side.'
--Pork and Shrimp Pan Fried Dumplings- very mild

Pretty Good:
--Garlic Green Beans- toothsome, but cut a bit of that salt, and offer Twice Fried, which are superior in their shrivel and crunch.

Nooooo Thank you:
--Eggplant- quality veggie ruined by too much sugar
--Lobster steamed dumplings- really didn't care for this dry all- lobster filling. Needed ginger at least, and a more appealing texture. Very awkward to eat; glutinous rice flour wrapper offered variety but not best flavor choice. 3 for $9

There are many dishes that we did not sample, noodles and soups among them, but we did try nine things. I am always wanting to be supportive of hard working restaurant people, and I applaud the goals of Empire, but I really feel they need to cut back on their sugar usage as they have successfully done on some of their soy sauce. Even their house-provided dumpling dipping sauce has sugar in it, and sugar has no place being there. Soy, vinegar, ginger- that should be it. (So, ask for vinegar and make your own blend, sans sugar.) Ruining their Orange Beef and Eggplant as badly as they do - puts them in the same disappointing sugar and salt vat of thousands of other American Chinese restaurants, when they clearly have the potential to rise above.

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