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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

All-American Chinese

 

Yip’s Chinese Restaurant

117 Columbia Turnpike, Rensselaer, 449-2030. Serving Mon-Fri 11-10:30, Sat 11:30-10:30, Sun noon-10:30. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: traditional Chinese restaurant

Entrée price range: $6 (chicken chow mein) to $19 (seven stars around the moon)

Ambiance: traditional Chinese restaurant

 

By B.A. Nilsson

How does Jimmy Yip see his restaurant in light of the efflorescence of Chinese buffets? “We’ve become a niche,” he says. “Just by doing what we’ve always been doing, we’ve become special.” But the competition is still fierce, he says, and there’s a perennial challenge of finding good help.

Nevertheless, Yip’s Chinese Restaurant offered one of the most fun dining experiences my family and I have enjoyed in a long time. Part of it was the old-fashioned look and feel of the place; part of it the enthusiastic family spirit. Jimmy or his wife, Ling, will see to it that you’re seated comfortably, and when she stops by to take an order, deliver an item, or just see how you’re doing, you’ll get a taste of her ebullient sense of humor.

“What are you taking pictures of food for?” she chided me, catching me as I surreptitiously tried to nab a photo for this piece. “Take a picture of your family! Or I’ll take a picture of all of you!”

It’s a throwback to the Chinese restaurants of decades ago, when Cantonese fare was the mainstay and exotic Szechuan items were just beginning to invade. And those made-in-America dishes like chop suey, chow mein and General Tso’s chicken are well represented. All that’s missing are the big yellow tablecloths and the choose-from-column-B combo specials.

The restaurant is on Columbia Turnpike (aka Routes 9 and 20) in Rensselaer, not too far east of the Hudson. Easy to find, easy to park behind, and offering comfortable booth and banquette seating—or seats in the room with the bar.

We arrived early enough to have a choice of booths, but watched with some astonishment as the place filled rapidly during the course of our meal. And these weren’t adventurous-looking eaters. This was Middle America, hungry for a good old-fashioned American Meal.

Let’s see what’s offered. Appetizers include egg rolls ($2.25), spring rolls ($3), that astonishingly bad-for-you-tasting deep-fried concoction known as shrimp toast ($3) and more along those lines. Do what we did: Get an array of them in the $12.50 pu pu platter.

I love that goofy display. It’s actually Hawaiian in origin, but made its way here in the Polynesian-themed Trader Vic restaurants of the 1950s and ’60s, sporting, as is still usually the case, an American Cantonese sampling. With a blue Sterno flame cresting the top of the tall presentation platter, it makes a party out of your meal and awakens in me an unexpected longing for all that tiki stuff—rattan chairs, bamboo torches, Martin Denny—that made my rum-punch-swilling parents seem all the weirder.

Yip’s pu pu platter gives you chicken wings, barbecue spare ribs, Hawaiian skewered beef sticks, egg rolls, artery-clogging shrimp toast and more. It’s suggested for a party of two. I wouldn’t inflict it on fewer than four. We were foolish enough to accompany it with an order of steamed dumplings (eight for $6), so there was no finishing any of it. Good dumplings, too, if you like them thick-skinned.

My daughter asked me to explain chow mein and chop suey, startling me with the realization that I’ve never ordered either. I did not use this occasion to change that statistic, but you have plenty of it to choose from, featuring your favorite meat or vegetable. Egg foo young and many different noodle dishes also are offered.

Bargains abound in the entrée selections. For example: Lily ordered sweet and sour chicken, confident that the flavor would be dominated by the former. It’s a $9 dish served with a side of white rice; add a dollar and they change that rice to the pork fried variety, and throw in an egg roll and your choice of soup or juice.

The entrée itself is significantly better than the puffy Chinese buffet variety, with a more complicated (and less glow-in-the-dark) sauce; it’s still too sweet for my taste, however.

My wife veered from her usual pursuit of poultry and ordered a Buddha’s Delight ($7.25), believing that she achieves temporary moral superiority by going vegetarian for a night. It’s a generous serving clogged with tofu, which she adores and I, I might as well confess it, revile. It’s almost palatable in this context, however, with a rich sauce that brings together broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, baby corn and bok choy.

I asked Ling to recommend something spicy and she immediately suggested Gong Bo chicken ($9; with soup and egg roll, $10), a Szechuan dish (also known as Kung Pao) that adds the appropriate peppercorns to a medley of peanuts and vegetables. Spicy? Hardly. It had a bit of a bite to it, but nothing that would disturb the aforementioned Middle America.

Jimmy Yip told me that he’s been running this restaurant for 31 years—32 in January—which means that he long ago beat the longevity odds for this mercurial business. His success has as much to do with the personality of the place as it does with a consistent, if unsurprising, cuisine, and it’s certainly the place to visit when you want a good, inexpensive, all- American (but nominally Chinese) meal.

 

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Nicole’s Bistro (25 Quackenbush Square, Albany) presents an International Beer Dinner at 6:30 PM tonight (Thursday, Oct. 4) featuring a guest speaker from World Class Beverages to introduce the beverages. Enjoy spicy shrimp and corn bisque or an Alsatian tarte with a German Späten Oktoberfest, filet mignon tips and portobello mushrooms or classic choucroute garnie with a Kronenbourg 1664 (France) and much more, including a dessert beer. It’s $45 per person, beer included. Reserve seats by calling 465-1111. . . . Honest Weight Food Co-op celebrates Local Harvest month with a series of events: This Saturday (Oct. 6), they’ll be grilling fresh local vegetables, locally grown chicken and quorn, a non-soy meat alternative, using coffee-infused grilling sauces from Keuka Lake Sauces from 11 AM to 3 PM. On Oct. 7 from 1 to 3 PM, enjoy a demonstration of pumpkin carving using locally grown pumpkins. All events are free . . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@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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