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A different kind of Chinese cuisine on the menu at Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace in Delray Beach

Mr.Chen’s Hunan Palace is located in a medical plaza.

An ownership change and the addition of a dim sum menu at this long-lived eatery have made it a standout in an area where most Chinese restaurants feature the usual Chinese-American fare. To be sure, the old favorites remain at Hunan Palace. 

By ALAN J. WAX

Dewei Liang wants to make Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace a standout among Delray Beach’s Chinese eateries.  It’s been a struggle.

The 39-year-old resident of Tamarac, where authentic Chinese eateries are relatively plentiful, bought the sprawling 100-seat restaurant on Linton Boulevard in late 2019 with the intention of providing diners in Delray Beach and its environs with more authentic Chinese food options, especially dim sum – Cantonese-style small plates.

Liang, who has worked for 20 years in Asian restaurants in South Florida, including the well-regarded dim sum purveyor Toa Toa, brought in chefs who knew what to do to facilitate the endeavor in which he had sunk his life savings and the proceeds of several loans.

Hunan Palace, around since 1988, had been run by various owners over the decades and its menu of Chinese-American cuisine has long been a favorite of the denizens of the area’s retirement communities who continue to patronize the eatery, which occupies the corner of a passageway in Palm Court Plaza, largely a medical-office complex just east of Delray Medical Center.

But two months after Liang took over, Covid-19 restrictions shut down area eateries and later in 2020 as those restrictions began to ease, Liang’s key kitchen workers declined to return. Hiring replacements has been near impossible, he told me after I dined in his establishment.

To be sure, he is still plugging away with the aid two days a week of the South Florida dim sum master who taught him how to make these small plates. Buoyed by a brisk takeout business and deliveries through Uber Eats, Liang is working to survive. He renovated the dining room and began promoting his dim sum offerings. Now, with vaccinations proliferating and more customers dining out, he’s hoping for a rebound. On a recent Saturday evening, about a third of Hunan Palace’s 100 seats were filled. To be sure, Liang would love to offer outdoor dining in the large, covered alcoves that adjoin the restaurant, but his landlord, the real estate investment trust Welltower, won’t permit it.

Interior of Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace on a recent evening.

Inside, red booths still line the walls and red velvet chairs covered with clear vinyl surround black tables of various sizes. A bright modern bar can be found at the front, but it exists largely as a sitting area for those waiting for takeout orders.

Many of Hunan Palace’s old menu favorites are still offered, presumably to satisfy long-time customers.  However, I was not a fan of the place under its former owners. Now, for me, the attraction is the modest menu of dim sum.

Liang says he’d like to expand his current dim sum offerings, but he does not want to overdo it and be forced to throw out unsold food. Everything is freshly prepared and no frozen dim sum are purchased. Moreover, food that doesn’t seem up to snuff, he says, won’t be delivered to his customers tables and dim sum, which have gone unsold, are tossed after two days. I hope egg-custard buns and egg tarts are among his planned offerings.

Dim sum long have been regarded as breakfast and lunch fare and best shared with a group. I’m happy to say that at Hunan Palace dim sum are available throughout the day. To be sure, dim sum can be found in other restaurants in South Florida, including Real Wok in Lake Worth, a handful of eateries in Broward County and, on Sundays, at Fries to Caviar in Boca Raton.

The successful dishes at the “new” Hunan Place outweighed the disappointments.

Silver noodles. 

Baked pork buns.

Shumai.

A new-for-me dish, silver needles ($10), instantly became one of my favorite dishes in the Chinese culinary repertoire. These house-made noodles, also called rat tails or loh shi fun, are doughy finger-long noodles made from rice flour.  At Hunan Palace, these toothsome “rat tails” are stir-fried with bean sprouts, shreds of carrots, onions, scallions and soy sauce and topped with a fried egg.  I found them addictive.

Also, at the top of my list is Hunan Palace’s congee ($10), a warming, long-simmered rice porridge available with such mix-ins as chicken, beef, roast pork and preserved eggs.

Fun gor ($5.30 for three), also called fun guo or Teochew dumplings, were delicate, translucent, steamed crescents packed full of flavor. Slippery, they were hard to maneuver from plate to mouth with chopsticks. So happy they got there.

Not-quite fist-sized baked pork buns ($5.30 for three), also known at baked char siu bao, were airy golden sweet-dough buns filled with chopped barbecued pork and a tangy-sweet sauce.

Shumai ($5.30 for four), a popular dim sum dish, was tasty, but I was taken slightly aback by the large pieces of shrimp within the ground pork filling of these wonton-skin flowers.

Steamed spare ribs.

Shrimp balls.

Fun gor.

Steamed spareribs, ($5.30), a small dish of impossible-to-pick up bits of bones with snippets of meat, proved to be immensely juicy and flavorful with notes of black beans and jalapeños.

Shrimp balls ($5.30 for three), deep-fried golf-ball-sized orbs of ground shrimp within a golden crust, were properly crispy outside with a steamy and chewy on the inside. Mayonnaise, provided for dipping, added another dimension to this simple dish..

The dim sum are best eaten fresh at the restaurant as a few varieties do not stand up to takeout.

Among other dishes, a Chinese-American favorite, wonton soup, suffered from a weak broth and wontons whose skins failed to thoroughly cook. Perhaps they were tossed into the broth too soon before serving.

Another Chi-Am favorite, honey garlic chicken ($10 combo dinner with soup, rice and eggroll), were crispy nuggets covered by a sweet, thick sauce. There was, however, more breading than bird.

The official corporate name of Liang’s restaurant is Lucky Rice 2019 LLC. “I thought it would be lucky when I started,” he told me. Hopefully the future will be luckier than the recent past if diners in the Delray Beach area embrace Hunan Palace’s dim sum concept and can be understanding of the staffing shortage that has affected the eatery (as well as countless others). I know I have.

Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace

5130 Linton Blvd. E1, Delray Beach, FL 33484

(561) 498-4703

https://mr-chens-hunan-palace.business.site

 

 

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