A reader sent us a note asking us to the check out the “New Peking Palace.” “I know you gave them a favorable review the last time you visited,” she wrote in an email. “The damage it sustained in Dec. 2015, closing for about a year, has really hurt business. I think many have taken it off their dining ‘radar.' Anything you can do would be welcome. I am just a fan of this restaurant and would hate to see it close.”
Yes, we were a fan of the old Peking Palace for many years despite its sometimes cranky owner who wandered the dining room and good-naturedly needled customers. There’s a certain charm in that kind of treatment sometimes, and what we always loved about the kitchen was how versatile they were, turning out solid versions of Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese cuisine, and the variety on the menu was solid. Ingredients were always first-rate. You can say all sorts of snarky things to me if you’re filling my belly with such great food.
Sadly, we can’t say a lot of good things about the “New” Peking Palace. Yes, it’s been remodeled after water damage forced a closure. It does look pretty spiffy inside. But the food just wasn’t as impressive and they’ve made a business decision that will similarly impact the place’s survival: no beer or wine. I’ve seen so many well-intentioned folks in the past open places with no alcohol served at all, striving to call it a “family-friendly” environment. That ignores the business reality that the huge markup on booze is what pays the bills for most places, and most customers can handle a glass of wine or beer with dinner without turning into raging fools.
Dining without seems to heighten the sensitivity to the issue. My companion noted that there was a wine rack and a mini bar near the back that seemed to taunt us. Across the street was a mini-mart nearby with a large sign touting liquor purchases. I wonder if they allow BYOB, or is that even legal? Even the Magoo’s Pizza nearby in the shopping center, which was more crowded, had beer and wine. Now we have liked many restaurants that don’t serve alcohol, but those tend to be less formal takeout places like Pita Paradise. I can’t recall a Chinese or Mexican restaurant that survived without at least beer and wine.
We were dining with Kyle and Megan, Kyle being a world-class musician who’s been all over the world who could recall eating chicken feet on a trip to China. Not only have I never been to China, I’ve never had chicken feet and wondered why anyone would want to eat those. He noted the odd gelatinous texture, wondered why Bakersfield had no dim sum restaurants where these are typically served (some folks have tried in the past, the most recent at the corner of Ming and Ashe, but they don’t seem to last).
We ordered four different items from the list of the chef specialties: the honey walnut shrimp ($14.99), the katsu pork ($12.99), the mango chicken ($11.99) and the orange beef flank steak ($12.99), all served with steamed broccoli on the platter and white rice on the side. Of the four, the beef was the most successful, somewhat spicy with a nice citrusy tang, but as with most of the meats there was a mealy texture to the preparation that was quite off-putting.
The shrimp immediately brought to mind that it had been far too long since we enjoyed the amazing walnut shrimp at Great Castle. The shrimp here have a thicker, harder batter that reminded Megan of her mother’s toffee-covered peanuts. Yes, they were almost that sweet. Be prepared. Kyle said he thought the cabbage below was nice and fresh. I think he was juicing me. The menu said the walnuts were candied but they looked like standard roasted walnuts.
The mango chicken was flawed mostly because the mango didn’t seem firm and fresh, and though the menu said it was served with a sweet and sour red pepper paste sauce we had trouble detecting that above the mango. The pork katsu was so overcooked it was inedible and rock hard in spots. It was one of those dining experiences with lots of leftovers that are removed from the premises more for social courtesy than to savor at future meals.
The remodel looked nice, though with the orange tile stripe running down the floor Kyle was wondering if Caltrans was in charge of the remodel. He was the King of Snark that night. The staff is small but kind, but you get the sense that they’re swimming upstream with all the changes. And there’s a substantial vegetarian menu that shows they’re working to serve that niche.