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Empress Pavilion ~ Chinatown

12:00 AM PDT on June 8, 2006

Empress Entrance

Empress Pavilion ~ Bamboo Plaza ~ 988 N. Hill St. @ Bernard St.

Los Angeles, CA 90012

On the second floor of a mini-mall at the crown of Chinatown, classic, authentic Cantonese cooking is done solidly at Empress Pavilion, and for decades long it has served as a popular banquet-hall for award-winning dim sum and seasonal specials. It's easy to say the food at Empress is perfect, every bite confirms the suspicion that nothing is done too wildly, but with just the right amount of respect, skill and taste.

Empress boasts a gi-normous menu of Chinese eats. Cantonese style eats hail from Guangdong Province in South-East China where Hong Kong is located. Cantonese is the style we most commonly think of when we eat Chinese, where the food is pretty mild and "any animal whose back faces the sun can be eaten," as they say.

Steamed Dungeness on Garlic Noodles
Empress was empty when we stormed through, leaving an echo in the giant chamber of round, white-draped tables. Strong hot tea was poured, its herbal essences strong to the point of overppowering as the pot came closer to empty.

Spring rolls ($5 for 4) arrived with very thin, crisp skin giving way to a juicy intermingling of supple chicken and and firm, savory mushrooms. Soon, our dishes were dropped off one by one. First, a "spicy" shredded pork, dark from a sauce swimming in chilis and shallots, was divine, though not spicy. The juicy pork is cut into thin strands or coils almost, with sweet flavor...(Continued Below...)
Mushroom/Chicken Spring RollsKung-Pao Chicken, Shrimps Scallops and Chicken in garlic chili & Spicy Shredded Pork

Empress Doors
Empress Ornament
Empress to go
Prepared Dungeness
Empress Banquet
Dungeness on flat noodles
Entrance Empress
Empress Menu

A plate piled up with large white shrimp, medium-sized flat scallops and small bites of chicken ($11.75) lacked many vegetables or distractions, but was dusted with a garlic chili sauce that gave hints of red-wine over the softest scallops and crunchy, fleshy shrimp that were flavorful.

Proving that insanity is contagious, Kung-Pao Chicken (we had to go there-$8.25), a Sichuan dish, drowned in soft peanuts, bursting with tender chicken that picked up a sweet, nutty flavor from its companions. The chicken's texture was almost reminsicent of a soft, well-made pastor, firm and supple in fringed curlicues, mixing with seared watercress and chilis, saturated in flavor.

Perhaps the Empress' most famous dish is its Peking Duck or its Steamed Soft Dungeness Crab on garlic sauced flat noodles. Both are a little pricey, so we settled on the crab, it's delectability legendary. The presentation of the crab alone was worth price ($24). Sitting in a bowl of buttery noodles and staring at us, daring us to figure out how to navigate it's juicy innards, it was intimidating and beautiful.

The crab is prepared tableside and served in a small bowl, a leg or claw seduticely peaking out of the noodle broth. It is quite difficult to eat until you get hardcore about it, cracking its shell, sucking at its ball joints, wiggling a finger into it to get at every juicy bite. At first, the table didn't feel it was the best thing on the table but as we accepted the challenge it's simple flavors and juicy flesh seemed addictive. Eating its brains or whatever the odd looking guts were was equally challenging and rewarding with a subtle, clean taste. The crab was not overwhleming with flavor but definitely savory and soft, and the garlicky noodles underneath were amazingly tasty.

5 People stuffed their faces, with soft drinks too, for about $16 each. All food at Empress was outstanding, with well-balanced seasoning, alluring presentation and satisfying flavor. Its reputation endures with the class and elegance found in it's food that is found in its black bow-tied waiters and tasteful decor.

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