Our large family holds a big dinner several times a year and this past Friday, enjoyed a splendid feast at Empress Pavilion. Below is the review that I promised to post, but really, it was pretty on-par with all the past big dinners we've had at Empress in terms of food, service and quality. We booked ahead and were able to grab one of the private rooms which was a bonus - they assign 2 or 3 waiters to the room so the service was attentive.
Whole Roasted Baby Pig: which I've actually never had there. It took 2 guys to carry the big piece of meat out to parade around the room for everyone to ooh and aah. Then they sliced it up and served it with little buns, Peking Duck style. Bread was warm, skin was crisp, the little sliver of fat underneath savory and the meat succulent (if not a little too salty). Good starter.
Shark's Fin Soup: Each person recieved their own bowl, arranged on one of those contraptions that include a sterno can underneath to keep the soup warm. You can have this soup be in either a dark gravy or in broth and this time we had it with broth. I prefer this style anyway since often, the gravy is way too thick and salty. This version was nice and rich, evened out with a little bit of red vinegar. They didn't skimp on the shark's fin either - everyone recieved several large clear chunks in their bowl.
Abalone + Gai Choy (Mustard Greens I think): They plated a single abalone and veggie clump for each person. Each Abalone was fairly large in size and was wonderfully tender. Not too soft and smooshy and not too rubbery.
Asparagus + Wild Young Bamboo Shoots: Generous helping of the bamboo shoots atop very fresh asparagus.
Beggar's Chicken: This was a very interesting dish - basically, it's a whole chicken stuffed (this version had preserved veggies), wrapped in lotus leaves, then completely covered in dough and baked in the oven. The result is meat that falls off the bone and is slightly flavored by the "stuffing". Parts of the chicken were dry, but the dark meat was absolutely delish. My Uncle explained to me that this dish was named after a beggar in olden-days China stole a chicken and since he didn't have any utensils to cook it with, covered it with mud and decided to bake the entire thing. The result was so tasty and smelled so good that it attracted the nose of the Emperor who happened to be travelling nearby who ate it, loved it and added it to the court menu.
Sea Cucumber, Black Mushroom + Pea Shoots: This is a standard dish that always appears on banquet menus. Nothing suprising with this dish, but at least the mushrooms were aromatic and the pea shoots not swimming in oil.
Whole Steamed Sheephead Fish: I like steamed fish, but I'm not as big of a fan as my sister so I trust her when she says that this one was very good. Also another standard dish that held no surprises. btw, the fish was really big!
Yee Mein: The only slightly disappointing dish of the evening. I thought the noodles were too soft and the toppings scant. It didn't stop me from devouring this dish though. I'm a big noodle fan :)
I can't comment on dessert since it was some hot soup that I didn't eat becuase I'm not a fan of Chinese soup desserts. I did get a bowl of Almond Jello w/Fruit Cocktail though and enjoyed it.
All in all, a really good meal that showcased fresh seafood and produce. I'm always exasperate when friends/coworkers tell me that they don't like Chinese food since it's "always heavy, with gloppy sauces." Their reference is places like Panda Express and I tell them that they have to try a "real" Chinese restaurant. Then I point them in the direction of Empress Pavilion :)
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