Moveable Feast

At the Emperor's Palace, you could dip chicken feet in a chocolate fountain.

Still, I felt I was missing something. Not a particular dish. I knew I could try 30 dishes (and I came close) and still miss 30 better dishes — and 30 worse. But none of the other diners seemed as stressed out as I was. In fact, they all seemed to be having fun.

And then I noticed all the kids. Of course, I'd already noticed them. The Emperor's Palace, like any all-you-can-eat buffet, is a restaurant for families, and there are kids everywhere: waiting in line for Mongolian barbecue, cutting in front of you to snag the last caramel apple, grabbing frog legs to go with their mac 'n' cheese.

It was this kid, a girl of seven or eight years old, who caught my attention. Maybe she already knew she loved frog legs. Or maybe she grabbed them on a dare from an older sibling or to gross a younger sibling out. Or maybe she just thought to herself, "What the hell?"

Hot stuff: Chef Yue Fei mans the Mongolian barbecue station.
Jennifer Silverberg
Hot stuff: Chef Yue Fei mans the Mongolian barbecue station.

Location Info

Map

The Emperor's Palace

17360 Chesterfield Airport Road
Chesterfield, MO 63005

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Chesterfield

Details

The Emperor's Palace
17360 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield; 636-537-8188.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Weekday lunch buffet $8.99
Weekend lunch buffet $11.99
Monday-Thursday dinner buffet $12.99
Friday-Sunday dinner buffet $14.99

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That, I realized, was what I was missing. The Emperor's Palace is a place you can say, "What the hell?" You can try something you've never eaten before, maybe something you've never had an opportunity to eat.

So rather than find out whether the pho here measured up to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, I took some jellyfish and some chicken feet and a dessert from the dim sum station called "Long Life Peach." The ball of dough did look like a peach. It also looked faintly obscene. The flavor reminded me of a Dunkin' Donut hole with jam inside, though here the filling was a thick bean paste.

The jellyfish looked like a pile of sliced onions. It had a mild, slightly acidic flavor, most likely from a marinade of lemon juice or rice-wine vinegar. The texture, though, was something else. Not just chewy, but resistant, as though the jellyfish were still alive and fighting your every bite. The chicken feet looked impressive — or disgusting, depending on your point of view — with their talons gnarled and clutching, but they're mostly skin and bone. The flavor and texture were innocuous, the flavor like a sweet barbecue sauce, the texture like fatty skin from any other piece of chicken.

I said, "What the hell?" one more time. I dipped a marshmallow into the chocolate syrup. The syrup was thin and just barely above room temperature and, I noticed, had started to form a crust along the sides of the reservoir. The marshmallow was tasty, though, a pure sugar rush, and for just a second — caught up in the madness of the Emperor's Palace — I wondered how it would taste with a spoonful of that golden melted butter on top.

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