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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

A Little Heart

Tai-Pan

1519 Halfmoon Parkway (Route 9), Halfmoon, 383-8581. Serving daily 11-10, dim sum Sat-Sun 10-3. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: Asian

Entrée price range: $7.25 (many noodle dishes) to $18 (Tsing Tao beef)

Ambiance: restful

By B.A. Nilsson

 

There’s a subtle way of signifying that you’re pleased by the service in a Chinese restaurant: Strike the table with two middle fingers. Like so many traditions, it dates to antiquity—in this case, the incognito journey of an emperor who preserved his anonymity by inventing this alternative to a bowing ritual.

I noted this in my last Tai-Pan review, in 1998, when service during a busy dim sum brunch was exemplary. And my fortunes haven’t taken me back until this recent visit, proving my promise to my daughter that this is one of the most handsome restaurants in the area, alongside Troy’s Plum Blossom which, not coincidentally, is also owned by Steve Chan, who designed both places.

In the case of Tai-Pan, which opened in 1991, he recreated a Zen temple. The high-ceilinged building has a comforting airiness, with spacious passageways from level to level and room to room.

A large party dominated one of the rooms during our recent weeknight visit; a couple of deuces and a party of three also were scattered throughout. We were seated in the room farthest from the entrance, on one wall of which hangs a weatherbeaten fragment of an Indian palace.

It seemed a little lonely in there, not at all what we’d experienced in years past. What was soon apparent was that we were caught in the slow-night server conundrum, which asks the question: How much staff is needed to work the floor?

In this case, the answer seemed to be one. One woman who carted (literally, on a rolling wagon) the courses and cleared the tables, with occasional help from someone otherwise in the kitchen. She was certainly pleasant when we saw her, but those appearances took forever.

Although the menu has slimmed down over the years, what remains is still a fantastic variety, with enough of the traditional Chinese restaurant fare to please the nervous. Mongolian steak flambé ($15), for instance, is like any popular sizzle platter (an Indian dish of Tandoor-cooked meats; a Mexican-inspired fajita array) in that it emerges with residual heat crackle and is set alight with the aid of 150-proof rum. It’s another example of how a not-so-tender cut of beef can be marinated and fired into something even tastier than its more costly counterparts.

Appetizers range from the expected, like spring rolls (two for $3.75, veggie or meat-filled) and steamed dumplings (also veggie or meat, $5.55 for six) to fried squid with Thai chili sauce ($5.55) and a steamed dim sum sampler ($6 for six pieces).

“Dim sum” translates loosely as “little heart,” meaning “little things that come from the heart.” These food morsels, typically wrapped and steamed, date back a millennium; some of the teahouses in southern China offer upwards of 2,000 different dim sum items.

The half-dozen we sampled were two apiece of three different combos of steamed ingredients, handsomely served in a bamboo basket with a pungent dipping sauce alongside.

Plenty of soups to choose from (each under $4) including none of the usual suspects. If you want hot and sour, you get a Thai version with shrimp that proved to be one of the finer variations on this theme, with dramatic flavors and a rich, full-flavored base.

Coconut figures into many dishes, such as the chicken (or vegetable) coconut soup; you’ll also find a lentil soup with mustard oil, a Vietnamese pho bowl with lemongrass and a Thai curry bowl, which I sampled, that combined rice noodles, chicken chunks and vegetables.

My daughter has become a skewer fiend, and will glom onto any kebab that’s passing; there’s a page of such items on the Tai-Pan menu. I’m very interested to taste the deep-fried beef-and-cheese kebabs ($6), and seared miso scallops ($7) sound toothsome, but I contented myself with sneaking a taste of Lily’s Korean-style barbecued beef ($6), with its slightly sweet, darkly vinegary coating.

Two pages of chef’s specialties include Cantonese seafood ($16) in a black-bean-tomato sauce, grilled salmon with udon noodles ($15), a combo of General Tso’s chicken and sautéed shrimp called Dragon and Phoenix ($15) and the exotic-sounding grilled chicken wrapped in banana leaf with Balinese spices ($15), which I ordered but which proved to be unavailable due to a missing ingredient.

So I settled for Indonesian chicken rendang ($13), in which coconut milk complements sweet potatoes and bell pepper slices along with the titular meat—very sweet, quite filling and refreshing.

Among the noodle dishes (each is $7.25) are pad Thai, a classic; lo mein and chow fun; and even grilled eel over rice, its inclusion possibly acknowledging the animal’s noodlesome characteristic. Any of these items includes the addition of chicken, beef, shrimp or pork. Don’t confuse these with noodle soup: As we discovered upon ordering the udon noodles with napa cabbage and mushrooms, seasoned with mirin sauce and black pepper, it’s a stock-free stir-fry that’s nevertheless delicious.

Except for the extreme length of time it took to get our food—and the somewhat chilly loneliness of the big back room—we had a very satisfying meal. Because the food is so good, so unusual, and so economical, I’m going to hope that it was just the time of the week (or time of the year) that caused our discomfort, and try this place again soon.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Parisi’s Steakhouse (11 N. Broadway, Schenectady) features selections from the Finger Lakes-based Hosmer Winery during its Wine Tasting Dinner at 7 PM on Monday (March 5). The five-course dinner features five wines, beginning with a crisp pinot noir to accompany Cajun shrimp bruschetta. Ravioli Bolognese with a cabernet franc and bacon-wrapped filet mignon paired with a hearty Estate Red are among the courses. The cost is $55 plus tax and tip. For more info and reservations, call the restaurant at 374-0100, or e-mail enjoyparisi at nycap.rr.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food at banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

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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