Tai Pan Palace [3/5]
3.5 (70%) 2 votes

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Tai Pan Palace is one of those Huntsville institutions that has been here simply forever. And yet, somehow we never quite made it in. We’d drive by and say “we should give them a try” and then forget about them on our next excursion. One Friday night though, we finally corrected this oversight.

We walked into a small entry way with an empty pool and a sign showcasing the evening’s special. We passed through another set of double doors where we were greeted and seated immediately. Our table was still wet from having been wiped down, which was a little odd since there was only one other table with patrons and the table next to us was dry. Each chair sported a thin, plastic covered cushion. Mine folded and slipped as I tried to take my seat, requiring some finagling to arrange.

My husband had heard great things about their buffet, but that appeared to be a lunch only offering as the buffet sat empty and our server promptly brought us menus. The selections were varied–from the common sweet and sour chicken to the probably-too-authentic-for-most chicken feet on the dim sum menu. I was happy to see a dedicated vegetarian section as well. Standard entrees came with a side of white rice (or pay to upgrade to fried rice) while “House Specials” came with soup and rice.

We opted to get an appetizer of deep fried dumplings to share. My husband selected the Lychee Nut Chicken House special, while I went with the simpler Beef with Vegetables, with the rice swapped to fried rice.

We chatted and sipped our drinks and our dumplings arrived quickly.

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Crispy and flavorful, they featured meat diced into small pieces (not pureed into oblivion). The wrappers were a touch thick, but overall it was a tasty dish. The accompanying sweet and sour sauce leaned toward the vinegary side of the spectrum, which made for a nice balance.

As we were munching away our server appeared and apologetically took my husband’s soup order–she hadn’t realized his meal came with soup. He selected egg drop soup and it arrived immediately after our appetizer was finished.

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The soup came with an oversized bowl of crisped wonton wrapper strips or, as we like to call them, “munchings and crunchings“. I thought the bowl was oddly huge until I watched my husband happily polish off the last of them with his final spoonfuls of soup.

The Lychee Nut Chicken arrived on the heels of the soup. Lychee is not something I’ve had often, but I recalled it having a subtle flavor, one that is almost more fragrance than taste.

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When the dish arrived, it’s light pink color seemed to back this up and I was charmed by the ornate carrot flower on the corner of the plate. Our server also brought separate plates, giving us the option of sharing our dishes or simply mixing our entree with our rice.

After an odd delay, my beef with vegetables (shown at the top of the post) followed.

The fried rice was very lightly fried sticky rice with large pieces of fried egg, peas, and small squares of carrots. It didn’t have a particularly strong flavor which made it a nice base for the entree.

The beef pieces were generously sized and not overly salty or drowning in soy sauce. The flavor was cooked into the meat, not simply applied as a sauce. The vegetables added a nice crunch. The fresh cabbage and crispy broccoli were both sweet. The thin carrot strips and a couple of lonely sugar peas provided a neat textural contrast. The baby corns had a neutral to slightly bitter flavor and the water chestnuts tasted solely of the sauce, as they are wont to do. A large piece of celery, sliced on the diagonal was an unexpected but pleasant addition. The sauce from the beef lightly coated the veggies, providing a cohesiveness to the dish.

My husband declared his dishes “fair”. My stolen bite of the Lychee chicken found the sauce to be oddly creamy (perhaps it was the color but the consistency reminded me of a thin ketchup) with a light flavor. Instead of being a rare treat, it seemed like a pale shadow of sweet and sour chicken.

The restaurant itself features boldly colored decor; the wall behind our table featured a large dragon relief. The main dining space was entirely 4 up tables, pushed close together, presumably to maximize space during the lunch buffet. A smaller room to one side provides overflow capacity and looks as though it would accommodate larger groups more easily.

Tai Pan Palace offers a wide variety of dishes to cater to a broad swath of palates. We enjoyed our Deep Fried Dumplings and the Beef with vegetables was well executed, but the Lychee Nut Chicken was rather disappointing. Still, the lunch specials are offered at attractive prices and can be pre-ordered online which is tempting for busy weekdays. I would happily give them another try, especially if someone else was wanting to go, but I don’t think they’ll be the top of my “go to” list.

Total for the meal: $33.19 (includes two soft drinks, one appetizer, one entree, and one house special)

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