Charming Chinese

Dennis Yip has been preparing mu-shu vegetables at Palais de Jade for eight years.

Dennis Yip has been preparing mu-shu vegetables at Palais de Jade for eight years.

Photo by David Robert

Palais de Jade is my brother Cameron’s favorite restaurant in Reno. It’s a fitting match—my little brother has a laidback, easygoing charm and is capable of moments of surprising brilliance and humor. Likewise, Palais de Jade has a sensible mix of pleasant atmosphere, impeccable service and delicious food. The ambience is great: well-balanced light, soft music, all-booth seating and one of the finest-looking bars in Reno. It’s nice enough to feel fancy but not so formal as to be stodgy, pitch-perfect for a good date, just like my brother Cameron. And watch out, ladies, ‘cause he’s single!

Why this Chinese restaurant, which serves Cantonese, Mandarin, Hunan and Szechwan cuisines, has a French name is still something of a mystery to me. It might be some sort of pretension to exotic elegance. This is a forgivable sin in the realm of Chinese food where the line separating the sub-par from the superb is surprisingly slim.

But a visit to Palais de Jade will remind you just how good Chinese food can be when it’s carefully prepared with only fresh ingredients. We started out with hot and sour soup ($5.50 for the medium bowl, more than enough for three people), and then an order of vegetable spring rolls ($4.50 for four rolls) with hot mustard sauce. The spring rolls were the first indication of how good the food can be, remarkably fresh and crisp for a treat that’s a usual staple of MSG drive-throughs.

They brought out our food in perfectly staggered courses, and next came the mu-shu vegetables. This dish is assembled at the table, as the server places a spicy plum sauce with the stir-fried vegetables on tortilla-like flatbread, and then wraps it all up with a deft use of spoons that would impress Soundgarden. The flashy performance is equaled by the taste.

For the main course, my brother ordered his favorite dish, kung-pao chicken with hot peppers and peanuts ($7.50).

“I love the mix of textures,” he said. “From chewy chicken to crunchy peanuts and celery and then the rice … I don’t even bother to look at the menu here anymore because this dish is the greatest creation of all mankind.”

Though my brother and I share a love of hyperbole, I wouldn’t rank it quite as highly as he does—there is, after all, the polio vaccine and Lolita and Blonde on Blonde and a few other accomplishments that I think might outweigh it. It is, however, pretty good and certainly worth a try (though my brother coveted all but about three bites).

We also had the “Jade” sizzling steak ($10.50): steak and onions served on a sizzling plate. It was OK, though the sauce was too sweet and tended to overwhelm the natural flavors. The vegetable chow mein ($5.50) was delicious, another example of just how tasty a familiar Chinese dish can be if it’s prepared with care.

The service, like the ambience, is excellent—and not just the smooth mu-shu performance. Our waitress was courteous and unobtrusive. Our dirty dishes were cleared after every course, and my Coke glass was regularly refilled. Palais de Jade offers fine dining at affordable rates in an environment conducive to slowly lingering over a meal. And, as my brother will tell you, there are few things as satisfying as a romantic dinner with him at his favorite restaurant.