Sherman's Food Adventures: Empire Garden

Empire Garden

Tonight, we were going to go for some Chinese food. Okay, that doesn't sound overly exciting or interesting really. How about Chinese food in Langley? Langley??? Alright, it is well known that I try to avoid Richmond as much as I like to avoid stepping in doggie doo; but go out to Langely for Chinese food? Now that's a bit odd. Well, I felt a bit strange really. Admittedly, Langley is not exactly the hotbed of Chinese cuisine. My concern was that the food might be a bit too "North Americanized". Well, that does bring up an interesting thought. Maybe North American Chinese food is what people want and that is probably what they'll get. We were meeting up with Nikita and Bluebeard at Empire Garden near Colossus to really see if real Chinese food exists out in Walnut Grove.

Of course we ran into rush hour traffic on our approach to the Port Mann. Luckily for me, having the whole family with me meant that I could take the carpool lane. I was surprised to be smooth sailing across the bridge until we hit Johnson Hill and instant stop... Yup, traffic jam. It never fails in the GVRD. When you think you are in the clear, a traffic jam appears to make your day. Of course that made us a bit late for our dinner and that is never a good thing. Any time taken away from my eating is a tragedy in itself. To prevent any more tragedies, we had called earlier in the day to reserve a Peking Duck. You see, Peking Ducks need to be prepared well in advance for dinner service. If they happen to run out, they can't instantly make one for you. It requires a process of "blowing up the duck" and having the skin dry out for roasting. If you don't do that, you'd merely end up with BBQ Duck.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that our duck
was being prepared table side. Each crispy piece of skin made a delicious crunching sound when pared off of the carcass. The crisp skin had a nice rich colour and it really was a good Peking Duck. It's a bit unfortunate that the steamed flour crepes were not exactly hot. When ordering Peking Duck, depending on the restaurant, there are either 2 or 3 courses. At Empire, it was 3. The second course consisted of using some of the duck meat for a Lettuce Wrap. A large mound of diced duck meat, carrots, onion and rutabaga rested on a bed of fried bean thread noodles. Combined with the fresh lettuce and hoisin sauce, this was another solid dish. The third duck course, Thick Duck Meat Soup was a slight miss. There was plenty of duck, bamboo shoots, shiitake, carrots and tofu in the soup; but it was really bland. Furthermore, it really need much more colour. With a bit of tweaking, this soup would've been good.

We were informed that the live lobsters were on special and since I drove all the way out to Langley for Chinese food, I was going to eat in style. No Lemon Chicken or Spring Rolls for me! We chose to have the lobster prepared in a ginger and onion sauce. To our delight, it was cooked perfectly. The lobster meat was fully cooked while still exhibiting a bit of chewiness. The sauce was a bit goupy; but tasted good without being too salty. To satisfy our veggie quotient, we got the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic. This was another successful dish since the pea shoots were fresh and not overcooked. There was just enough salt and plenty of garlic flavour. I'm amazed how many restaurants mess up this dish by over-cooking the pea shoots.

Alright, the last dish was a bit of a cop out. We ordered the Sweet & Sour Spareribs. I know, I know, it's not a dish actual Chinese people normally order; but hey, we needed to try out a Western-friendly dish for research purposes. In fact, Nikita pointed out that they ordered the usual North American Chinese dishes here and they were woefully disappointing. They much preferred the unauthentic restaurant across the street for that stuff. More on that later... As for the spareribs, they were a bit over-fried and had too much flour on them. Furthermore, the sauce was weak, not much in the way of sweet or sour. I didn't like this dish and ironically, it happened to be the least "Chinese" dish of the bunch.

And this brings up an interesting point. I found that the authentic Chinese dishes to be more than acceptable. Now for the one "Western-friendly" dish, it was another matter. So, I'm thinking that a restaurant that specializes in North American Chinese food would probably do a better job in the "sweet 'n sour" category than an actual Chinese restaurant. Therefore, if you want authentic Chinese eats, Empire Garden is good for Langley. However, if you merely want a combo #5, then go across the street to Chan's Palace.

The Good:
- It's authentic
- Surprisingly nice decor inside
- Friendly service (for a Chinese restaurant)

The Bad:
- Service was sparse when it got busy
- Their take on North American Chinese food is weak

Empire Garden on Urbanspoon

7 comments:

Jennifer said...

i happen to really love empire...i just can't find enough people to go with me more often! i'm a small eater, but it probably wouldn't be amusing to the staff if i walked in just wanting a bite sized portion of everything!

that being said, i've had the duck 3-way on my list for quite some time and actually have plans to go eat it in a couple days! the countdown is on, heh ;)

thanks sherman for the tip on calling ahead to let them know we want the peking duck! i better get on that!

-jenn-

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, we love Pecking Duck too; we finish most of the crispy skins, and doggy-bag the rest. :)

Langley Concrete Contractor said...

Empire is awesome.
I love their Orange Chicken, ginger beef, moo shou pork...
Great place I can't get enough.
Jennifer if you're looking for company I am always up for some Empire delicacies

Sherman said...

Thanks LCC, it's nice to hear that you liked it. For me, it is a real Chinese restaurant and that's not very common out in Langley.

john said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john said...

I love Empire Garden.
I always order their Szechwan style dishes. The flavours are amazing, service is always good, and the price is fair.
Its a good thing I live 30 miles away or I would eat there every day.
SK

Sherman said...

@John Well, there are not a lot of authentic Chinese restaurants out in this area, so they do not have a lot of competition! :)