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B.A. Nilsson

Asian, Gracefully

Ocean Palace

855 Central Ave., Albany, 453-6258. Serving Sun-Thu 11-11, Fri-Sat 11-midnight. D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Chinese

Entrée price range: $4 (wonton noodle soup) to $13 (conch with scallops); some daily seafood specials priced higher

Ambiance: uncluttered

 

By B.A. Nilsson

As the old-style Chinese restaurants in the area pack it in, they’re being replaced by Chinese buffets. Back in the day, your standard Chinese restaurant was a place of linen-topped booths, big yellow napkins and little ornate teacups, a constantly refreshed stainless teapot steaming beside the bowl of fried noodles. This was a restaurant that accommodated an increasingly sophisticated American palate as Szechuan and Hunan cuisine, and later other Asian varieties, were added to the bill of fare.

And then that sophisticated palate was overtaken by an increasingly girth-expanding American populace in search of the quick, fatty and cheap. Buffets landed, seemingly overnight, in every strip mall in the region.

My first recent taste of Ocean Palace’s fare was a cup of hot and sour soup. Now, I wouldn’t be able to write of the buffets if I, too, weren’t one of the endomorphs trolling the steam tables. I usually steer myself from the egg rolls and crab Rangoon by starting with a cup of said soup; the difference between Ocean Palace’s brew and any of the buffet offerings was enough to convince me to avoid the latter from here on in—especially if I’m anywhere near uptown Albany.

Ocean Palace is on the ground floor of an office plaza near Everett Road, an unattractive building that captures the storied soullessness of state-type work. How nice, then, to see the ornate door that welcomes you into the restaurant.

It’s been there for nearly a decade, replacing a succession of shorter-live enterprises, and, as its name suggests, stakes its reputation on seafood offerings. And owner Peter Chan is nuts about seafood. A large, inset tank displays a goldfish and its outsized cousin, a koi, the acquisition, care and feeding of which he’ll lovingly describe. Sensing a fellow ichthyophile, he also showed us another tank of fish, most of them for customer consumption—but featuring a couple of (not for consumption) turtles, one of which he rescued from a highway.

The day’s specials are described on pages that hang near the bar, and I suppose it’s a good sign that most of them are in Chinese characters only. We were about the only Occidentals dining there early one evening early in the week, and (I think) the only ones who didn’t study the specials board beforehand.

I asked Chan for recommendations, and he happily rattled off a list of fresh seafood items (some of which, like sea bass, can be priced rather high) and reminded us that they have good quick-frozen fish specials as well.

How intrepid do you wish me to be in pursuing exotic foodstuffs? I don’t want to recoil with American tourist-like fear from something I’ve never before eaten, but I wasn’t prepared to commit my evening meal to conch with duck feet (number 97, $13), for example. I’ve enjoyed conch in the Caribbean; it’s the duck feet that worry me, based on my experience sampling chicken feet during a lavish dim sum feast in Manhattan’s Chinatown some years ago. They were—you don’t need to read about it here.

My party was primed for at least moderate adventurousness, however, and we amassed a sizeable collection of dishes, none of which we finished, all of which provided many subsequent meals. (And Chan was insistent upon pointing out that we were ordering way too much food.)

Expect the usual Chinese restaurant items—the egg rolls, lo mein, beef with broccoli and the ubiquitous (and domestically invented) General Tso’s chicken, none of it priced over $9 for dinner and in the $5 range for lunch.

But the menu goes way beyond that. Noodle soup, for instance. We sampled the roast duck fun soup ($4.35), which includes big chunks of chopped-up, crispy (or formerly crispy) duckling swimming in a rich-flavored broth that it shares with noodles and an assortment of Asian vegetables.

A very different broth surrounds the mixed seafood with noodle (number 154, $10), drawing its flavor from the combo of shrimp, scallops, surimi and squid. More noodles, more veggies, more to bring home with us.

The menu’s seafood list seems to go on forever; the numbering system makes it easy to count that there are 50, abetted, of course, by specials. One of which was peppers with salty scallops, a new concept to me, in which sliced sea scallops are lightly breaded and sautéed with a lot of salt enhancing the flavor. But it feels right, even as it tastes salty, and it’s a style that also can be applied to shrimp, crab and other seafood.

We chose a lamb hot pot from a list of casserole dishes ($9), each of which is served over a flame to nice effect. The broth in this has a curry flavor, and the meat, while bony, is tender and spicy, surrounded by an appropriate vegetable medley.

I’m guessing that business is unpredictable enough to warrant the cost-cutting measures we saw: no table linen, and paper napkins (cloth napkins were arrayed around the large tables on the other side of the room, obviously set up for presentations by the likes of pharmaceutical company reps). But service was quick and cheerful—and everybody in the place waited on us at one or another. The food here is so much better than the buffets that I’ll happily sacrifice all those choices for a few choice Chinese dishes.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

--->no scraps this week


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Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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