What if I told you I know of a place where I can practically guarantee the meal will be one of the most memorable of your life? And that, depending on which multicourse extravaganza you order, the food will only set you back between $18.80 and $38.80 a person? Interested? Thought so.
There's a catch, though. You have to book a table for the Chinese New Year banquet at Red Palace, which is only being offered for five days, beginning Wednesday. And you have to round up a party of 10, in accordance with Chinese banquet custom which traditionally serves the special meal to tables of eight or 10. It's OK if you can only round up six or eight people, say, as long as your party is willing to spring for the entire 10-person order. And if you're a smaller party and would still like to sample the offering, you'll find several special dishes available a la carte.
But I'm betting, once you've told your friends about this meal, your problem will be limiting your party to 10 people. Here's what $188 gets you: hot and sour seafood soup, cold noodles, spicy dumplings, tea-smoked duck, deep-fried whole halibut, walnut shrimp, sizzling black pepper beef, scallops in spicy garlic sauce, three cup chicken, Chinese broccoli and Yang Chow fried rice. And that's the bargain menu. The more expensive options up the ante with the likes of lobster salad, shark fin soup, braised abalone, Peking duck, lamb in black bean sauce and almond bean curd.
If you're wondering about those $188, $288 and $388 prices, they're the expression of a Chinese custom that considers the number eight to bring good fortune. A price with double eights is, you might say, the Chinese equivalent to our own Southern tradition of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.
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Why do I feel so confident that I can "practically guarantee" that it will be unforgettable? First, Red Palace is the best Chinese restaurant in the Triangle. Second, of the 10 most memorable meals I've enjoyed, two have been Chinese banquets. Considering the fact that I've only attended two Chinese banquets -- one a wedding, the other a New Year celebration -- in my life, I'd say that's a pretty impressive track record. At the moment, I don't anticipate being invited to another Chinese wedding. So, if you'll excuse me, I've got a few phone calls to make.