1745 Galleria Blvd., Suite 3140,
Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.;
lunch buffet 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Dinner: 3-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.;
3-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Growing up in a white, middle-class suburban neighborhood in the ’60s and ’70s, my exposure to ethnic food was pretty limited. I was raised on a steady diet of tuna noodle casserole, meat loaf, roast beef, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and iceberg lettuce. What I knew of Chinese food came primarily from cans of Chun King or from what I saw on television and in movies.
On the screenbig or smallpeople who lived in New York City, especially single career girls, ate an awful lot of Chinese take-out food. Sometimes these career girls did it alone, but often they did it with a man. A man they had just been to bed with. Eating Chinese take-out foodusually in bed, always right out of the cute little cardboard cartons with the handlesseemed to be something people who lived in New York did after sex.
Eating Chinese take-out food with chopsticks out of the carton in bed with a man you had just made love with but were not married to seemed to mea teenaged girl trapped in suburbia dreaming of an electrifying life anywhere else but therethe most exotic, erotic, exciting thing anyone could possibly do with food. I was mad to try it myself. And I did. Unlike many of the things that I imagined might happen to me if only I lived in New York City, it lived up to all my expectations. Funny how such simple things can prove so satisfying.
Eventually, I found that while eating Chinese food with chopsticks out of cartons in bed with a lover was indeed delightful, it wasn’t the only way to do Chinese. I enjoyed countless Sunday nights in tiny places in Chinatown with large groups of friends, disregarding the printed menu and simply pointing to the plates on the tables of native Chinese and saying, “We’ll have what they’re having.”
Then I moved to Nashville and immediately discovered a shortage not only of Chinese restaurants that delivered, but of any that served the food I had grown accustomed to eating when living in a city that counted thousands of Chinese residents among its population. The sauces were too thick and cloying, the veggies not as fresh, the shrimp not as big, the spices not as spicy. Like many other devotees of Chinese food, I stuck to Dynasty, which was then in the Continental apartment building on West End Avenue. When it closed, I pretty much stopped doing Chinese altogether.
Not long ago, reliable sources told me about Peking Palace, a Chinese restaurant in CoolSprings, “next to Target,” as its menu advises. The hot and sour soup, they said, was superb and the moo shoo pork to die for.
Reviewing a Chinese restaurant is extremely difficult, given the number of choices available to diners. For dinner at Peking Palace, there are 17 dishes listed under poultry alone, 14 shrimp listings, and 10 beef. Common to most Chinese restaurants, many of the dishes are prepared the same way, just with a different meat or seafood. There are also several house specialties, and an assortment of rice and noodle dishes. Unless I took the entire Tennessee Titans football team along, there’d be no way to sample every dish or even a majority, so I offer a few standouts and my overall impression.
Pu Pu platters are always fun, though not always very good. On a return visit, I’d skip the platter and avoid the things I didn’t care forthe prefab, frozen egg rolls, the over-fried chicken wings, the overly battered fried shrimp, and the tough skewered beef. Instead, I’d start with the meaty barbecue spareribs or indulge in the ab-fab crab meat wontons. (Not much crab was evident, but the cream cheese filling was delicious nonetheless.)
The hot and sour soup was indeed an excellent versionrich and thick and with enough kick to cure even the worst hangover; it’s what my friend Gay and I swore by when we were young and wild. Peking’s won ton soup was also much better than the namby-pamby version usually found in these parts. Bowls of crispy fried noodles accompanied the soup.
If I could get just one thing at Peking Palace, it would be the moo shoo pork, which is prepared tableside, saving you the trouble and mess of rolling up the shredded pork, cabbage, and egg in those flimsy little pancakes. You’ll get at least four big ones per order. We also liked the cashew shrimp, the sesame chicken, the wor bar (a sizzling platter of stir-fried seafood, beef, and chicken), and the Mongolian beef. Don’t be tempted by either lobster dish just because you love the big crustaceanthe breading and deep-frying effectively mask the sweet, delicate taste of lobster. I was pleased that the scary red sauce that coats sweet and sour chickenmy children’s orderwas served on the side and could be doled out sparingly over what were essentially chicken nuggets.
In general, the veggies in each dish were fresh and not overcooked; the sauces piquant, flavorsome, and spicy when requested. Except for the lobster, seafoods and meats were cooked to order. The kitchen was a little heavy-handed with the cooking oil; consequently, what in China would be a healthy dining experience was greasier than I like. Overall, the quality of the food and service at Peking Palace is the best I’ve had here since Dynasty closed.
The prices can’t be beatdinner for 10 came to $169. Lunch is an even bigger bargain; lunch specials with soup, rice, and fortune cookie are $4 to $5.
You know the old saying about Chinese food? An hour after eating it, you’ll be hungry again. I can promise you, if you finish even half of what’s on your plate at Peking Palace, you will not be ready to eat again for hours. Maybe days. Nearly everyone at our table that night took away enough leftovers for another meal at home. How, where, when, and with whom they ate it once they got there is none of my business, but I hope they were careful with the flimsy styrofoam containers.
In the July 1 issue of the Scene, we incorrectly identified the park at the foot of Belle Meade Boulevard. That park is Percy Warner Park.
We regret the error.