A Weekend of Chinese Food and College Basketball in Philadelphia
I considered putting this on the existing Chinese restaurant thread, but decided to make it a separate trip report.
I had mentioned on there that my friend and his family were visiting from Pittsburgh for the weekend. In addition to seeing me, the other reason for their visit was to catch a Temple University basketball game. He and I met at Temple many years ago.
His wife is ethnically Chinese, from Taiwan, and we always go for Chinese food when they're here, usually in Chinatown.
Before my friends arrived, I had some other business to take care of. Many of you know the story of my emotional connection to the Imperial Inn in Philly's Chinatown and that I had recently written it off because of how far downhill the food has gone. But they are closing after this weekend and there was no way I was missing a chance to go in there one final time to relive some of the memories in my mind. So my colleague and I placed a takeout lunch order with them Friday and I picked it up.
It's the white awning in the distance:
In this next photo, you can see a guy sitting against the far wall and looking in my direction. I hadn't notice him when I was taking photos, but it turned out he is an old friend I hadn't seen since I was in high school who is also an Imperial Inn lover there for one final meal. We have been Facebook friends more recently and shared memories of the place with each other. He figured he might find me there that day and came over to say hi right after I took these photos.
The sweet and sour shrimp and egg roll I had were but a shadow of what they were like even a few years ago. I took a photo of the food, but I'm not posting it. I would rather live with the memory of their sweet and sour shrimp when it was good, and it was REALLY good; maybe the best I've ever had of that dish, an all-time favorite of mine.
I did get a couple souvenirs: a little plastic container of hot mustard that is now in my freezer for long-term keeping and a takeout menu.
The following day, Saturday, my wife and I drove to Northeast Philadelphia to meet our friends at the large dim sum place I mentioned on the other thread. I forgot to photograph the outside, but it's pretty non-descript. As I mentioned on the other thread, the restaurant critic at the paper where I work now considers this to be the best Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia.
The inside is large and fairly nice for a Chinese restaurant.
A nearby cart while we waited for a table:
Those tanks contained fish, lobsters and several varieties of crabs.
As expected, there was a nice array of food on the carts that frequently came by our table.
I love Chinese egg-custard tarts:
They kept trying to get us to take an order of their pork buns, as they are their specialty. I initially resisted because they looked like the steamed pork buns that I'm not nuts about. However, looks were deceiving, as we were told they are, in fact, baked, and we took an order.
These looked similar, but were filled with a sweet custard. They were my wife's favorite dish of the day:
The food was all very good. My only disappointment was that I didn't see my favorite dim sum item: a type of barbecued pork pie in puff pastry with sesame seeds on top. I saw it on their web site, but they must have either been out of them by the time we arrived or not had them that day.
That evening, my friend, his son and I took in the Penn-St. Joseph's game at the Palestra on Penn's campus. This is unquestionably one of the great arenas in the country. It's nearly a century old. Only the arena at Butler is comparable in terms of history and tradition when it comes to college basketball. Penn won its first Big Five title in many years with a win Saturday (the Big Five is a longtime Philadelphia college basketball tradition … it's an unofficial conference: Temple, Penn, St. Joseph's, Villanova and La Salle).
After the game, we wanted a late-night meal, and naturally, we went to Chinatown for more Chinese. My initial inclination was, Yes, to go back to the Imperial Inn for yet one more "final meal." But while there were a decent number of people in there, they had stopped seating additional customers by the time we got there, around 10-10:30 (they used to stay open until the wee hours of the morning). So we went to a place about half block north of there called David's Mai Lai Wah.
In the article I posted on the other thread about the closing of the Imperial Inn, it called the I.I. "arguably the oldest restaurant in Chinatown." I'm not certain, but David's Mai Lai Wah may be the other contender for that title. I remember walking past it regularly when I was a kid during the 70s. I'm not sure why I have eaten there so infrequently over the years. This may have only been my third or fourth meal there and the first one in very many years. I remember when I was a kid I was turned off by the notion of a Chinese restaurant called, "David's." Part of the problem in more recent years has been that it is not open for lunch. They open around 4 p.m. and stay open until something like 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. They are known to be a favorite of local chefs who want to be served a meal when they get off work after midnight. They are also known to do a good job on classic Chinese-American Cantonese, but their menu is a bit more varied than the Imperial Inn's. After last night's experience, I think I should make more of an effort to go there at least periodically.
The initial impression wasn't that great. I was reminded a bit of a couple different Seinfeld episodes: the ones where they have a long wait for a table at a Chinese restaurant and also the Soup Nazi episode. It's obvious immediately they have their own, time-honored way of doing things, which doesn't include seating people quickly when they enter the restaurant. The line got a lot worse after we were seated. I think if we had gotten there 5-10 minutes later, we may not have stayed. But I'm glad we did.
My friend and I split a shrimp egg roll. It was good, although not as good as the old Imperial Inn egg rolls, which had barbecued pork in them.
The fried pork dumplings were outstanding.
They offered both Chinese-American style Cantonese wonton soup and Hong Kong style wonton soup. My friend and his family enjoyed the latter.
The shrimp-fried rice was nothing special.
But the sweet and sour shrimp took me back to the way sweet and sour (or pungent) shrimp used to be in the 70s. While I would still say the pre-decline Imperial Inn did it better, this was really good.
As was the half a roast duck we shared.
I stayed at the hotel where my friends were staying Saturday night so I wouldn't have to keep going back and forth between the suburbs and town. When I went back to my room after the meal at David's, I saw this a couple doors down. There is a lot of good pizza in Center City. I guess they weren't aware.
The hotel was less than a block from the Reading Terminal Market. I ran in there this morning and grabbed a very good almond croissant from the Metropolitan Bakery stand for breakfast.
We finished the weekend with another basketball game, this one between Temple and Cincinnati, on Temple's campus. They played a good first half, but were outplayed by Cincinnati in the second half and lost.
I went to every game during the '87-'88 season. Temple was ranked number One much of the season, but lost to Duke in the regional final.
Tony Luke's has a stand at the arena and my friend's son enjoyed a cheesesteak during the game.
It was an extremely enjoyable weekend. My friend and his family are going to Memphis for the conference tournament in March. They've asked me to go. I'm not sure I can swing it, but I'm going to investigate the possibility. If I can go, I'm going to be a lot more interested in the local food than the basketball tournament.
post edited by phlmaestro - 2019/01/27 18:54:31