To get all my usual disclaimers out of the way: a delivery order is not the same thing as a restaurant meal. You’re missing the ambiance & the service, which of course factor into a typical review—& by a majority of accounts to which I’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt, Imperial Chinese is lovely & smoothly run. You’re also risking the possibility that the increased time & space between the kitchen & your mouth will be detrimental to food quality—although if the restaurant in question is willing to deliver in the first place, it stands implicitly behind the results, which may not look quite as comely or be as piping hot as they would in house, but you’ll get the idea (especially if you avoid fried calamari or, um, soufflé or something that’s really best served immediately).

Taking all that into consideration, & recognizing that this place is something of a South Broadway institution, I nevertheless wouldn’t call anything we ordered on 2 occasions last weekend “imperial”—as in “royal,” “extravagant,” “magnificent,” etc. It was all pretty disappointingly commonplace, in fact.

I guess the best of the bunch were the Imperial noodles (pictured above right)—described on the website menu as containing chicken & shiitakes, but the round egg noodles were tossed instead with pork, scallions & peppers. Odd, but okay by me, though observers of various dietary strictures might object more strenuously. Simple but flavorful, nice & toothy, though I liked them even better when I splashed them with a little of the duck & mushroom soup (unpictured) that, by itself, was a bummer—starchy in texture, indifferently seasoned, highly suggestive of a packaged soup base—but that added a little moisture in lieu of sauce. Above left, the Director’s yue shang lamb—a variant spelling, I assume, of the more common yu hsiang, a term that usually indicates the presence of a fairly spicy, garlicky, salty-sweet sauce—wasn’t notably pungent, but at least the lamb & shiitake pieces were tender, the broccoli bright & crisp.

The “dim sum sampler” sure looked pretty by any measure, but proved a mixed bag. Pork shumai (right) were just fine, no better or worse than 100 other examples—unlike the gluey, drab har gow (shrimp dumplings, bottom). As for the green ones (left), the vegetarian filling was a pleasant surprise—cabbage, scallions, sweet winter squash, & what seemed to be couscous?! any ideas?—but the skins were doughy & chewy, not delicate & silky.

Which brings us to “Johnny’s seafood gumbo,” a supposed house specialty. Though brimming with perfectly firm-tender mussels, whitefish, scallops, shrimp & squid, the soup itself tasted exactly like equal parts gazpacho & sweet-and-sour dipping sauce—gloppy, cloying & just weird.

So I dunno. Imperial won’t be on my regular delivery rotation, that’s for sure. I may head there sometime to see if dining in yields a vastly different experience, but I won’t hold my breath in the meantime.

Imperial Chinese on Urbanspoon