OUT to LUNCH by Bethel Poston: Reunion plans at New China Palace a tasty treat

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You may remember that my wife, Carol, and I grew up in Oak Ridge and schedule “Out to Lunch” high school reunion committee meetings. This lets us plan our reunions, provides an column-writing opportunity, and we get to enjoy a fun lunch.

Our reunion committee has met several times at New China Palace on Melton Hill Lake Drive in Oak Ridge, but I had never written an “Out to Lunch” column on it until this visit.

New China Palace has served Chinese Mandrin-, Peking Hunan- and Szechan-style food for almost 39 years. It shares a building by the water with the Oak Ridge Rowing Association’s Marina and Boathouse.

Our group eats in the private dining area that also houses a full-service bar. I wandered into the main dining room to get a better view of the boats at the dock and check out the crowd of people enjoying their lunch.

When I saw a table occupied by some Asian folks, I decided the food being served was truly authentic Chinese.
Weichang Zhuo, Youe T. Chu and Ming Tao are research physicists and engineers with Uster Technologies of Knoxville. For 60 years Uster has been a leading instrument-testing supplier for the textile industry.

On their table were large family-size bowls, not individual servings, filled with items I was told were not on the lunch menu.

On a later study of the menu, I think it was similar to the “Special Dinner – Truly an adventure in Chinese cooking.” You’ll find an extensive menu at www.newchinapalace.com.

I’m sure it was as difficult for this group to understand my Southern accent as it was for me to understand their comments.

Ming said they began their meal with fried wonton — or dumpling — appetizers. She said the serving bowl in front of her was “Shui Zhm Niu,” a hot, spicy beef with peppercorns.

Weichang used a large spoon to serve himself from a bowl of twice-cooked pork, but he and the entire group ate their lunch with chopsticks.

Youe asked if I would like to have a plate and join them. I declined, because of my meeting.

Their meals came with rice and a green vegetable I did not recognize. Of course, they all had Chinese hot tea.

My reunion group started with a bowl of hot-and-sour soup. I couldn’t resist some of those crunchy noodles that may be the Chinese version of Fritos. It was really good and lived up to the “hot and spicy” label, immediately opening our sinuses.

I ordered “Governor’s Chicken,” tagged on the menu with an image of a pepper as one of the menu’s hot and spicy offerings.

It was a tasty blend of chicken, cashew nuts, water chestnuts, mushrooms and green pepper sautéed in a special hot soy sauce and served with fried rice.

China is home to soy sauce, which is made from fermented soya beans and wheat according to Wikipedia.
Carol chose sweet and sour shrimp, which also came with fried rice. Half of her serving came home for a later snack. It was so good. I’ll order it next time.

Several of our former classmates — including  Mimi Small Brock, Kathy Moore Tuxbury plus Kendall and Barbara Beaty — went for the beef and vegetables entrée.

All lunch specials come with daily soup, egg roll, fried rice and fortune cookie.

Beef entrées can also be ordered with green peppers and onions; mushrooms and black bean sauce; hot garlic sauce; chicken and vegetables; or broccoli.

Chicken was the most-ordered entrée from our group. Marjorie Card Mathews and Nathan Stonecipher had sweet and sour; Benny Houser, Ellis Mae Darby Stonecipher and Betty Ralph Stokes had vegetables with theirs; while Betty’s husband, Lloyd, added almonds.

Jean Davis Houser ordered moo goo gai pan.

According to Wikipedia, “In Cantonese, moo goo means button mushrooms; gai means chicken; and pan means slices. It’s marinated in chicken stock, oyster sauce, sugar and cornstarch, then cooked in soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil, with bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, garlic and ginger.”

None of our group ordered pork dishes, but Dan Tuxbury had shrimp with broccoli, Don Cobb chose the

Governor’s Shrimp, and Jan Harlan selected shrimp with green peas.

New China Palace, opened in 1973, is owned by Chang-Nan Joe. Dier Ren has managed the restaurant for 16 years and told me the most-ordered lunch entrées are Governor’s Chicken, sweet and sour chicken, shrimp with broccoli and the house special of shrimp, beef and chicken.

The menu has a listing for chicken, beef or pork chop suey. In my younger years, I thought chop suey meant hurry or quick. It means assorted pieces.

From a previous visit to a Chinese restaurant, I learned chicken, beef or pork offered chow mein means with stir-fry (chow) noodles (mein).

If they were served “lo mein,” you would get Chinese soft, or spaghetti-like, noodles.

Dier Ren mentioned the top choice for an evening meal is the crispy beef with orange flavor, described on the menu as “tastefully breaded tenderloin sautéed with orange-based and hot sauce.”

Another popular choice,  the “Happy Family Hunan Style,” is, according to the menu, a dish of “scallops, shrimp, beef, chicken and roast pork with vegetables and sautéed in hot black bean sauce.”

It’s closely followed by sesame chicken, which is described as “golden fried chicken breast sautéed in chef’s special honey-lemon sauce and generously sprinkled with sesame seeds.”

Some of the appetizers on the menu — crab Rangoon, beef string, shrimp toast, butterfly shrimp — intrigued me.

You can also find Peking duck at China Palace. The menu says it’s “whole honey duck served the original way as in native Peking, which made Peking duck world famous. Served with green onions and wrapped in Chinese pancake.”

I’m not into eating duck, but I could handle trying the Chinese green onion pancake on the menu’s appetizer page. Wikipedia describes it as unleavened flatbread whose dough contains oil and minced scallions.

New China Palace is open seven days a week —  from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch. Dinner hours are from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Desserts mentioned on the menu are almond cookie, banana or apple fried fruit with sesame seeds, spun fruit sugars and ice cream. I didn’t even try to save room for dessert this visit, because I know how filling Chinese food can be.

It would be nice to be a supplier of rice and soy sauce for Chinese restaurants because almost every plate served uses these products.

We all had a fun time at New China Palace, enjoyed the food and look forward to our return visit.
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Bethel Poston is a Roane County businessman and entrepreneur who writes about places of interest in our area. E-mail suggestions and comments to postonplace@bellsouth.net.