Carrboro/Chapel Hill: Jade Palace Revival
Jade Palace has always been my poster child for wretched, watered-down Chinese food. I've been a couple of times over the years, and it has always been a grim experience; on one occasion I received my food, took one look at it, and headed for Elmo's, where I had waffle (itself not very good, by the way). The good news is that Jade Palace has been purchased by the brother of the young lady who co-owns Superwok in Cary. The new chef-owner is nowhere near as talented as Chef Chen, who mans the kitchen at Superwork, but he has learned a thing or two from Chef Chen, and he has sound restaurant instincts. The first thing he did was fire the team of Mexicans who did the cooking under the old regime and took over the kitchen himself, with the former chief chef acting as sous chef.
Jade Palace remains -- and probably will remain -- an eatery for the non-discriminating and timid American diner, but the meal we had there this week was not bad. We had spring rolls, followed by Mongolian beef and sesame tofu (a Superwok rip-off), all of it edible enough.
In general, the restaurant seems somewhat revitalized. There were more customers than we had noticed previously, and they seemed relatively jolly, where the old Jade Palace was a spectacle of people hunched over their plates of sweet and sour pork with pained grimaces.
In short, the restaurant is headed in the right direction. Where it was once one to avoid, it is now one to try some cold night when there's nothing in the fridge and an Asian meal has more momentary appeal than a similarly priced omelet at Elmo's or burger at Tyler's. The chef says that he will begin to change the menu in a week or two. The place can only get better.
I went back to Jade Palace tonight out of a kind of curiosity. We had three dishes -- one good, one okay, and one dismal. The first was cooked by the new chef-owner; the second was partially cooked by the new chef-owner; and the third was cooked by the old chef, who remains on duty as part of the purchase agreement. The old chef is off duty on Mondays. This is probably the safest night to test the waters.