Just because a restaurant's aging, that doesn't make it a classic.

Missed Fortunes 

Just because a restaurant's aging, that doesn't make it a classic.

It's a lot more interesting to dine in a new restaurant or bar like Westport's One80 (see review) than a place that's been around a long time. But sometimes returning to a favorite old restaurant is like running into a former lover who hasn't aged so well.

It's easy for me to suddenly forget that I've put on a few pounds and gone more than a bit gray when I catch up with an old flame who has turned dumpy, jowly, wrinkled and, in one startling case, Republican since our last rendezvous.

That was my reaction during a recent dinner at Stephenson's Old Apple Farm (U.S. Highway 40 at Lee's Summit Road). Pervading this iconic restaurant is a sense of ennui that all the apple daiquiris in the world can't spirit away. The dining rooms are dowdy; the service lackadaisical; and the food, including that famous baked chicken, is the culinary equivalent of dumpy, jowly and wrinkled. I used to think this joint had charm.

I had a similar experience at the Princess Garden (8906 Wornall), which was wildly popular, even kind of snazzy, back in the 1980s. The dining room looks like a vintage postcard view of any Chinese restaurant ... from the 1950s. The walls are the color of lime sherbet, and plenty of gilded birds and dragons stand sentinel under a big Oriental lantern with red tassels.

If you like time travel, the Princess Garden is an inexpensive ticket back to the days when most Chinese-American restaurant menus were practically encyclopedias. This version is 14 pages long, with three of them devoted to wine and cocktails such as the Princess Garden Grog ("strong but very passionate," the menu notes) and the Shark's Tooth (with a bite "so sharp you won't feel a thing").

And Princess Garden serves dishes that don't show up on the menus at trendier Chinese venues such as Bo Lings: crunch chicken, for example, or spicy-crunchy beef that isn't so spicy but is as crunchy and sweet as malted milk balls.

Even more retro: Fortune cookies arrive naked, without a protective cellophane wrapper. Just like love in the early 1980s.

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