Shun Lee Palace
155 East 55th St, New York NY 10022; (map); 212-371-8844; shunleepalace.lanteck.net
Service: Tuxedo-clad servers dote on you as if you're on the Orient Express
Setting: Those stuck in a 1980's time-warp might find the room majestic, but these days it is more likely to be considered a bit gaudy.
Compare to: Chin Chin, Mr K, Chinatown Brasserie
Cost: 3 courses for $24.07
Shun Lee Palace will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, marking four decades of serving food that was once avant garde and influential but these days has gracefully aged to become classic. Shun Lee Palace is something of a New York institution, having helped to popularize a number of now-familiar dishes such as orange beef.
The restaurant is perhaps as well known for its white glove service—the pomp and ceremony of a meal there would not be out of place on the Orient Express—as the justifiably pricey food. But the lunch prix fixe offers a pretty good value: two courses and dessert from a generous selection of dishes from the restaurant's main menu for under $25.
Start things off with some juicy pork dumplings...
...or instead, try some of the finest Chinese-style pork ribs you could hope to have. Meaty truncheons of pork come glazed with a sweet duck sauce. The exterior is crispy, the innards deliciously moist.
Orange beef, a dish that some say was created at Shun Lee Palace, is among the lunch offerings. I have never had a finer example of the dish—tangy and sweet—the beef is tender and succulent beneath the crunchy batter, quite unlike the leathery strips that often plague other versions. The sticky, syrupy sauce, littered with orange peel and peppers, oozes into the nooks and crannies of the fried beef, infusing it with flavor.
But you could also opt for the Pork Szechuan, which features equally tender strips of pork and snow peas bathed in a brown, aromatic sauce.
Finish things off with a generous wedge of pineapple or an even more generous cup of Häagen-Dazs, and fortune cookie or two, of course.
Shun Lee Palace might not have the glitz and glam of a trendy downtown fusion spot, or the gritty charm of a basement restaurant in Chinatown. But it's a charming New York institution to cherish, and a lunch deal worth putting on your list.