But Palace is like a veiled citadel hidden in plain sight, a secret fortress protecting a big secret.
Inside, the dining room is large, spotless, gleaming, done in saturated colors, high glosses and with accents of pale wood. The bar off to one side has club chairs set before low tables and looks like an unused set from some Merchant-Ivory period piece. And Palace makes use of all this space, offering dim sum on the weekends, banquet facilities, karaoke, VIP seating on a raised platform at the back of the restaurant, and prix fixe lunch and dinner specials every day -- along with a large regular menu that's heavy on everything. There are Saigon noodle bowls and Vietnamese hot pots, Hong Kong-style roasted sea bass, Nanking-style pork loin, Shanghai bok choy, Mongolian catfish and fresh Atlantic salmon steamed with soy, ginger and scallions and served with sweet black-bean sauce.
Last week, I stopped in for gigantic prawns and gold pineapple served in warm mayonnaise, and candy-sweet pork buns wrapped in sugary clouds of dough; for tea and tender, subtly sweet Szechuan chicken breast served with a slice of fresh watermelon. Palace is an unusual joint, friendly, welcoming and -- though you wouldn't guess it from outside appearances -- one of the best, most original, most surprising Chinese (and Vietnamese and Mongolian and Shanghainese) restaurants in the city.