When Malaysia’s Genting Group opened its casino in—of all places—Ozone Park’s Aqueduct Racetrack, it followed the same formula it had used at glitzier locations in Singapore and Manila, launching luxury restaurants right on the premises to satisfy the culinary needs of its high-rolling patrons. At Aqueduct, where wealthy gamblers might be harder to come by, there’s a ritzy steak house called RW Prime and an upscale Cantonese restaurant proudly named Genting Palace, clearly aimed at Asian gamblers. The limited menu focuses on southern Chinese fare with Southeast Asian and Taiwanese twists, showcasing premium ingredients like abalone, shark’s fin, bird’s nests, and live seafood pulled from the cleanest tanks you’ve ever seen.
To approach the restaurant on foot, disembark the A train at the gritty North Conduit Avenue station and pick your way through an expansive (and at night, dodgy) parking lot. If it’s a derby day, pass through the old racetrack and see men with greasy hatbands clutching crumpled racing forms like it’s still 1960. Traipse farther north to find a gleaming casino implanted like a giant pacemaker on the north side of the track. The gambling floors are nearly all slots, and in compliance with an arcane state law, the gaming tables are video-driven with no live dealers or croupiers. It’s like a scene from Blade Runner.
Genting Palace is situated on the third floor of the casino next to the parking garage. The decor might be described as very Vegas, with strange intergalactic light fixtures, sumptuous furniture, satellite private rooms, and ugly carpets that—like all casino floor coverings—begin to look like vomit if you stare at them for too long. Odd for a Chinese restaurant, there’s an outdoor terrace with tables that will presumably at some future point allow you to enjoy some of the city’s best dim sum while watching the galloping ponies. Don’t expect carts; ordering is done from a 33-item menu.
The rice-noodle rolls called cheong fun ($4.50 to $5.50 for three) are remarkable, the shimmering wrappers as white as an operating room. In addition to the usual beef and shrimp (the second supplemented with golden chives), you can also get fillings of filet mignon and barbecued pork with enoki mushrooms. Although most of the dim sum will be instantly familiar, some is not, including “black and white pearl dumplings.” In an Asian answer to the fabled black-and-white cookie, one of these two shrimp-paste orbs is coated with white rice, the other with black. Another steamed dumpling called Teo Chew shrimp, enfolding the crustacean with crunchy fried shallots in opalescent rice noodle, references a coastal prefecture in Guangdong more often spelled “Chiu Chow” or “Chaozhou”—but the name has also come to symbolize the Chinese diaspora across Asia.
Highlights of the dim sum menu include dried-fluke congee, supremely tender soy-braised chicken feet, and stuffed bean curd skin topped with shredded garlic chives. At dinner, Genting Palace shifts gears into big-ticket entrées delivered in relatively small portions, and you might have trouble gaining admission to the restaurant if you can’t convince the greeter you know your way around the kind of Cantonese food not found in neighborhood carryouts. Indeed, even the name “marinated pork knuckles with liquor” ($13.50) might be off-putting to some. But what arrives—heaped on pickled carrot and daikon—is a delicious plate of cured charcuterie. “It’s like something you’d find in a small town in Italy,” a friend proclaimed enthusiastically. The jellyfish app is just as good, flanked by “preserved century eggs” that display an alarming dark translucence.
Five friends and I feasted magnificently one Saturday evening on poached chicken and vegetables flavored with holy basil ($18) and on a medicinal soup of black-skin chicken and ginseng that the waiter tried to prevent us from ordering. “It’s bitter,” he warned. He was right; we loved it. There were grilled beef short ribs sliced razor thin in crushed garlic, yellow e-fu noodles with luxuriant wads of crabmeat, and a delightful fungus medley with all sorts of squishy and fibrous stuff. The menu even has a Chinese-American section appended as an afterthought, priced at three or four times what you’d expect to pay in your local Chinese joint.
The shrimp egg foo young ($20) was a reverent evocation, three patties of shrimp and sprouts fried to a lovely shade of brown. Imagine our surprise when it proved to be smothered in—not the usual starchy brown gravy—but a perfect French demi-glace. Such are the charms of Casino Cantonese.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 2, 2012