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    We all know what image the word "buffet" conjures up, and it's not a complimentary one if you're looking for a fine meal. Add "crazy" to that, all sorts of pictures spring to mind that would make the late eccentric filmmaker Ed Wood blush.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Think of it more as Asian communal eating rather than a buffet. And since there are Japanese creatures akin to foxes running wild in their native country, I'll coin a new phrase and say, "Crazy Buffet is crazy like a kitsune."

    Neither old nor new, Eastern Pearl has been open for a couple of years, but its unremarkable environs -- in the plaza across from Altamonte Mall -- close it in. It's a remarkable find, wondrous even, in the case of the "mango shrimp."

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    Given the high caliber, prices are a bargain. The only gripe: For $7.50, the glass of Sterling Char-donnay could have been fuller. Hot tea was poured without request all evening, in keeping with the genteel serving skills -- practiced, politely distanced and informed -- that carried this meal to its distinctive conclusion.

    Tony Chen likes it hot. With his wife, Kathy, he used to own a restaurant in Vermont, but moved to Florida because it was "too cold" up north. At the Chens' latest restaurant, Imperial Dynasty in Longwood, one of Tony's specialties is Empress Chicken, which he describes as being "known throughout northern Vermont." The entree includes nicely battered strips of chicken with fresh broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and carrots in a very hot brown sauce. I guarantee there was less snow in Vermont whenever that dish was ordered.

    Taiwanese-born Tony's first restaurant in Florida was the Royal Dynasty in Ormond Beach, opened in 1993. In March, the Chens moved to their current location on State Road 434 and a space formerly occupied by Cara Mara Restaurant and, before that, a Shoney's. The exterior still has the corporate-food look, not much different than the Denny's next door.

    The style of food at Imperial Dynasty reminded me of those "Polynesian" restaurants my folks and cast members of television's Route 66 used to enjoy in the 1960s. Among the entrees are such dishes as beef and broccoli ($9.25), egg foo young ($6.25 to $9.95) and chicken chop suey. Fortunately, the food at Imperial Dynasty is a step up from the Polynesian lounges, but it's not without some flaws.

    Perhaps because of my lingering first impression, the menu didn't strike me as the type to include spicy dishes. But, by paying close attention to the tiny pepper symbols when ordering, you'll avoid being surprised like I was.

    Unexpected appetizers included kimchi ($2.95, which was marked "hot"), ground chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves ($5.45), and a lovely dish of several different kinds of bright green, chewy seaweed in sesame oil ($3.95). A thick and mild chicken and corn chowder ($1.95) was blessed with savory roast chicken threads.

    The food is good, but tastes are aimed at Western palates, just like at Polynesian eateries. And that might be the shortfall of Imperial Dynasty. The ingredients in the "house special" Triple Delicacy ($13.95) were first-rate: Extremely tender chicken and juicy, fresh shrimp were served atop thin pan-fried egg noodles. But it was all covered in a sauce that was much too salty.

    Stuffed dumplings ($4.95), either fried or steamed, were enormous and enormously heavy: The ground-meat interior was the consistency of meatloaf, like an American version of dimsum.

    In sum, Imperial Dynasty offered not disappointing cooking, but not terribly adventurous, either.

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