STATEN ISLAND, NY — After a visit on Wednesday to Italianissimo, I stopped at a Grasmere strip mall sporting a fresh food look. The former Sunrise Bagels now is home to a handsome Italian deli, appropriately named Bagels and Panini Shop for a nod to its menu. And soon there will be a new eatery in the corner storefront: a hibachi restaurant moving into the former digs of Fortune Hawaii.
Ahh, that Chinese restaurant spot at 900 Hylan Boulevard where several food dynasties arose in the past 30 or so years. Circa 1985, I stood across the street as a Hilltopper waiting for the S7 bus and watched the dawn of its first iteration. It arrived on the dining landscape as a linen-cloth eatery — officially The Purple Garden, affectionately referred to by my fellow ’80s, big hair gal pals as “The Purple Palace.”
Indeed, for a 14-year old, this was a royal restaurant — competition for our family’s go-to spot, the venerable Lum Chin in Dongan Hills (now Jac Mao). But the purpleness of the palace won us over. It became a place to dress up on a Saturday night and the parents indulged in a favorite pre-meal cocktail at the time, Kahlua and milk.
Lavender walls and linen napkins of the same hue, The Palace’s then-modern look rivaled the reds and lacquered black of contemporary counterparts—Lee’s Imperial in Oakwood and Crown Palace at the Flamingo Swim Club, formerly in Great Kills. Whereas Jade Island’s tiki huts and flaming pu-pu platters smacked of the prior decade, the people’s purple place seemed to bloom specifically for this decadent age.
By design, the Hylan Boulevard destination, in its heyday, was unique. Just inside glass doors to the left, a podium stood in front of the takeout counter where a massive fish tank bubbled. A tuxedoed host asked guests if they’d like to sit either in the lower or upper dining room.
DUMPLING ENVY AND FOOD VOYEURISM
Choosing the upstairs was worth the wait and truly an event just for the act of passing by other occupied tables. In the walk across a plush purple carpet on the way to the stairway, we took a quick inventory of the menu from already-seated patrons, food voyeurism at its best.
On the upper level, there were several tables on a perch suspended over a portion of the restaurant. In that cozy corralled dining room, I tasted “plum sauce” for the first time on mu shu pork pancakes and it was like eating something inexplicably delicious while sitting on a cloud. The only other borough experience in feeling that sense of loftiness in a restaurant was at Pennyfeathers in New Dorp.
Over the years, The Palace strayed from its original Cantonese mission. At one point, it dove hard into the daytime bar trade, reemerging around 2009 as Fortune Hawaii with a dalliance in sushi. By then it had abandoned its upstairs dining room, turning the public away so it could be used as storage. It temporarily changed names in 2011, becoming “Harbor Hill,” inexplicably so with no harbor and only a St. Joseph Hill Academy within view.
But here we are at the crossroads of another era in edibles for the East Shore. The so-called Purple Palace and its brand of fine dining is long gone. My hope for the next restaurateur’s go-around is for pure good fortune.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.