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Winter heat

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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