FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Orange Chicken is one of the specialities at Imperial Chinese Restaurant in the Westridge Shopping Center across from Pearlridge.
Imperial offers grand buffet deals
Chinese restaurants are still the places where diners can feast on a budget. Even so, I had to wonder who's doing the accounting at Imperial Chinese Restaurant, where a daily lunch buffet is $8.95 and weekend lunch buffet is $10.95.
I've never professed to be any kind of math genius, but in this case I think the diner comes out way ahead.
At first, I questioned the wisdom of offering a Chinese buffet. Hungry souls could pick up a three-entree plate for about $6.95 at any Chinese fast-food outlet. That's enough variety for a single sitting, and a person doesn't usually need much more than that.
But, as everyone knows, there's always a big difference between theory and practice, and once at the weekend buffet, the beauty of it came clear.
"Ooh, roast duck! Salt-pepper shrimp! Kau yuk! Beef broccoli! Steamed sea bass! Fried chicken!" This was all available for about the same price as a single entree, and none of it had the feeling of being yesterday's leftovers. I sampled all of it and then some.
What's more, because of the affordability, I felt less pressure to pigout to get full value. The buffet usually features 14 to 15 entrees -- subject to change -- such as garlic stir-fried long beans, a seafood and vegetable sauté, tofu and vegetable sauté, crispy gau gee and won tons, plus soup, pork hash, the expected rice and noodles, and dessert.
As far as I could tell, the only difference between the daily and weekend buffet is the addition of the steamed fish on weekends.
With high-end dishes of roast duck and salt-pepper shrimp priced at $11 (half order) and $10.95, respectively, it seemed that the restaurant stands to make more by having customers dine a la carte. A minimum of two entrees and rice for two is likely to add up to more than they'd spend at the buffet, but there's much to be said for good public relations, and the partners involved in this restaurant have 30 years of experience in community restaurants from Mililani to Mapunapuna to Kailua.
Maybe they've learned that happy, stuffed buffet customers who like spacious, fresh-looking quarters often find their way back for a la carte and special-occasion meals.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Imperial's lunch buffets were popular over the holidays. Reservations are being taken for Chinese New Year, Feb. 7.
IF YOU'RE among those starting the new year trying to save money while feeding a family (and are tired of pizza and fast-food burgers), this is the way to go.
A la carte dishes prepared by Hong Kong-trained chefs average $7.95 to $8.95. On the high end there's one of the house's best dishes, Volcano Beef Tenderloin, for $12.90. The black pepper-covered slices of beef arrive encased in foil and ready for flambé presentation. Parents with impressionable young children might need to find a baby sitter and enjoy this dish on their own because it makes playing with fire look like fun.
Picky diners might prefer going the a la carte route anyway. Dishes like the house-made roast duck are so much better straight out of the kitchen. Unless you're at the buffet when it opens or when they're adding dishes, you can't be sure how long the food has been out drying, wilting and otherwise becoming inedible. The kau yuk, for instance, was bouncier than that ordered straight off the menu.
Other popular offerings here are sweet dishes such as orange chicken ($7.95) and honey-walnut shrimp ($12.95). Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce ($7.95) was too vinegary for my taste, but this might be just the way you like it. Fried rice with diced chicken and salted fish ($8.95) had more of the plain chicken than fish, so I missed the flavorful little bursts of salt.
Rounding out the menu are $9.95-to-$11.95 casseroles and $11.95 sizzling platters.
All that's left is dessert, and almond float (sans the canned fruit) is complimentary.