Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is this What is Called…

damning with faint praise?

Dialfred on said: “…The service is good, fronts on the Veterans Park & River so it's convenient…If it's not the best Chinese food, it's consistently good. And the place is clean.”

What is he talking about? Peking Palace in downtown Napa, CA. And, while the name sounds like one, it is not a Chinese buffet. Rather, it is a full-service sit down restaurant under the direction of Executive Chef James Chen serving Chinese Szechuan and Mandarin cuisine. It even has a corkage fee.

After a morning of idle meandering, we found ourselves in need of lunch, and we wanted it fast and we wanted it cheap. And nothing is faster and cheaper than lunch specials at a Chinese restaurant.

Chuck’s photos captured only one view of the décor. While there was no red flocked wallpaper, gold ornamentation was everywhere including hanging from the ceiling.

The lunch menu contained all of the Chinese restaurant lunch staples that included: eggplant or broccoli with hot garlic sauce, hot and spicy string beans, sweet and sour chicken, lemon chicken, cashew or almond chicken, kung pao chicken, chicken with black bean sauce, sweet and sour pork, Mongolian beef, broccoli beef, and so on.

All of the lunch specials come with the day’s soup, appetizer, rice (steamed or fried), and entrée. That day’s soup was egg drop (or egg flower), the one Chinese soup that I just don’t get. Usually it is—to me— flavorless and comes in an odd shade of neon yellow that doesn’t naturally occur in nature. This version was made with tofu, some red bits that could either be red bell pepper or tomato, and egg threads and was served tepid. Fortunately the restaurant placed a bottle of sriracha on each table and a generous glug gave the soup some flavor.

Next came our shared order of pot stickers. There is no nice way to describe these. They were awful. The worst ever. Thick chewy skins enrobing tasteless pork filling. Time for the sriracha again.

By the time our entrees arrived, we were having severe misgivings. Especially when we saw that the appetizer was, instead of the usual inedible egg rolls, two fried wontons slathered with unnaturally red sweet and sour sauce (in the photos below).

My choice—the Mongolian Beef—Is not a traditional Chinese or Mongolian dish. According to wikipedia. com: “Mon-golian beef is a dish served in Chinese-American restaurants consisting of sliced beef, typically flank steak, and stir-fried with vegetables in a savory brown sauce, usually made with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and chili peppers.... The name of this dish is somewhat misleading, as aside from the beef, none of the ingredients or the preparation methods are drawn from traditional Mongolian cuisine. The term ‘Mongolian’ is rather meant to imply an ‘exotic’ type of food.”

But I admit to enjoying it, and this was a shockingly good version. The thin slices of beef were tender but not mushy and still had a measure of “chew.” The sauce had the ideal balance of heat from dried red chilies, sweet from the hoisin sauce, and salty from the soy sauce. And mixed with the beef and sauce was an ample amount of scallion and sliced red onion.

Chuck ordered the Kung Pao chicken and was equally pleased with his order. Tender pieces of breast meat were mixed with carrot, green peppers, red onions, celery, and peanuts. We did spend some time debating whose meal was spicier, his or mine. We both agreed that this restaurant did not “dumb down” the desired Szechuan heat for which we were grateful.

Not great Chinese food, but the two entrees redeemed Peking Palace and elevated it to a 3.0 Addie score.

After lunch, we took a short walk around downtown Napa to see some of the sculptures that were part of NapaARTwalk, "...a program designed to enhance the public environment and promote the understanding and enjoyment of public art in downtown Napa on a temporary basis" (napaart

The first work we saw was created by Terrence Martin and entitled "Fish 'On'" (right). It was created entirely from mild steel with individual scales cut and joined together from the inside around an internal steel frame.

The selection of sculptures to be displayed downtown was completed in July of this year. The artwork will remain on view for a period of approximately eighteen months, during which
community members and visitors may vote to select one artwork for a People’s Choice Award, to be announced in spring 2013.

"Chinook Resurrection" (left), a representation of the Chinook salmon, by Adrian Litman was firmly positioned on a pedestal near the Napa River just off First Street.

Stephen Fitz-Gerald created "Via Regia" (which means "royal road") as a dedication to his dreams. He noted that Freud said "Dreams are the royal road to the subcon-scious."

Depicting the iconic form of a river-going vessel, "Skiff," created by Eric Powell, is one of the 15 sculptures that will remain on view for duration of the voting period.

Back at the parking lot, we saw this "sculp-ture"--
a 1933 Ford Model B Pickup Truck.

Another beautiful work of art.

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