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The Emperor's Old Clothes

dining_dynastyI found food fit for a king at the beautifully furnished Dynasty Restaurant

It was a rare but welcome night when my dad came home with red and white cartons of Chinese food. Later, when an associate of his returned from Japan with chopsticks, I was excited to learn how they work. Sweet and sour pork (which our neighbor Mrs. Kong taught my mother to make) was a favorite.

I stopped at Dynasty Restaurant a few months ago for egg rolls and was immeasurably impressed by the decor. Three large tables the color of rosewood appear able to seat twelve, each with lazy Susans and adorned with gilded dragons. The banquet room holds an even bigger circular table.

Wallpaper shimmers metallically depicting aerial views of Chinese street life, and in the back hall from similar paper, dragons seem to emerge three dimensionally from the smooth surface. Behind glass hangs a yellow robe worn by an Emperor's family member in the 1700s.

Recently at brunch, the tables were set with bright plates of Chinese design, primarily yellow and blue. A matching porcelain pot kept our tea hot until the fortune cookie course. Dynasty offers a selection of teas made with purified spring water, and we chose pu-erh ($3); flavorful and almost peach-colored. This aged large-leaf tea from southwest China, which our server said is very expensive, is sold in pressed cakes. (On-line I found desirable older teas for $6 an ounce and more.)

We began our meal with something I thought an oxymoron - Chinese Corn Soup ($6.50/$9.50). Served in a white heart-shaped bowl, it was so delicious it was hard to save room for the three dishes that would arrive later. In the rich broth, bits of flavorful chicken and sweet yellow kernels of corn joined ghostly suspended egg whites.

I requested a spicy version of Garlic Chicken ($8.95) which arrived on a rounded triangular white plate. It was very simple, with long, thick strips of sautéed chicken breast, large, crunchy slices of water chestnut, and crisp broccoli and carrots in a light, salty sauce flecked with dried chili flakes.

One of the award-winning chef's specialties is beef or lamb in Zilan sauce ($13.95). Very tender, thin slices of lamb, blackened dried chilies, and a generous amount of toasted cumin seeds were tossed in a dark floral sauce and laid atop light and puffed rice noodles. As the lamb was richly marbled, I would order beef next time.

Like the Garlic Chicken, Twice-Cooked Pork ($8.95) was prepared with very little oil. Thin rectangles of lean pork tenderloin with cabbage, carrots, green onion and bamboo shoots were coated with a brown sauce.  A subtle sweet note joined a mounting sour essence, leaving just a hint of fire in the back of my throat. Our server said that in most of China sugar was used sparingly, if at all, and was balanced with a tartness and saltiness.

Dynasty offers weekday lunch specials ($6.50 to $9.50), and on weekends a dim sum lunch. They're open every day.


Dynasty Restaurant, El Rancho Shopping Center, 3601 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz, 479-3388. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and weekends 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Visit chinadynastyrestaurant.com.

Comments (2)Add Comment
...
written by author, February 16, 2011
Benjamin, Thank you so much for sharing a local source for the wonderful Puerh tea.

Karen
Puerh is amazing...
written by Benjamin Cox, January 18, 2011
Great article and, indeed, a beautiful restaurant.

I just wanted to comment on your mention of Puerh. I've recently (in May) discovered Puerh and have never looked back. It is an amazing blend of flavor, energetic expansion, and a terrific tool for stimulating wonderful conversation.

I noticed you mention finding some online... let me warn you that truly high-quality Puerh can be very difficult to find online. There was a boom in Yunnan, China in the late nineties, and a bust late this past decade. As such, there are a lot of folks with investments trying to recoup their losses. Also, forgeries and counterfeits.

However, in my opinion the best Puerh I've been able to find _in the whole US_ is right here in downtown Santa Cruz, at Chaikhana. Check out some of the reviews on their Yelp page for some perspective: http://www.yelp.com/biz/chaikh...anta-cruz.

I'm not affiliated with them, but have become a regular customer. Since my first experience with Puerh in David's shop it has become a central part of my life. So, if you were intrigued by the taste you tried at Dynasty, you owe it to yourself to go down to Cedar St, walk into Chaikhana, and tell David you'd like to try some Puerh.

Cheers,

Ben

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