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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Drawn by Flavor

By B.A. Nilsson

 

Blue Spice Restaurant

1619 Central Ave., Albany, 608-6843. Serving lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Sat-Sun noon-3, dinner daily 4:40-10. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Thai

Entrée price range: $10 (Thai fried rice) to $19 (ginger seafood)

Ambiance: unassuming

The power of a positive review can be immediate and stunning. Turn a good wordsmith loose on a topic as fascinating as food—in particular, a new restaurant—and the day that piece is published, said writer can take pride in knowing that there’s going to be a packed parking lot.

I know. I tried to park at Blue Spice Restaurant the evening that Ruth Fantasia’s review appeared in the Times Union, and there wasn’t a space to be had. I didn’t read the paper that day, and sensed no trouble when I made my reservation. But after sneaking my car into a neighboring lot, I entered a dining room filled to capacity—except for the table they were holding for me.

Only after our meal was well under way did I see owner Judy Somboon displaying the TU page to a customer; I finally understood what I’d wandered into.

I tip my hat to the kitchen and floor staff, who coped with what must have been a bombshell with effective doggedness. None of our dishes seemed to be much delayed, but there was a bit of an assembly-line feeling. Still, the busyness of the place added enough of a layer of pressure that we decided to make another visit once the review had worn off a little.

The restaurant was much less full when I returned a couple of weeks later for a late lunch, and service was friendly and unhurried, more of a reflection, I think, of what prompted many people to recommend the place to me.

Blue Spice is housed in what looks like a converted fast-food place, with classier-looking tables draped in blue and a modest array of decorations across the walls. A cheerful use of flowers throughout the place offsets the need for a new floor.

Judy’s husband, Pinpong, is the restaurant’s chef, offering an extensive dinner menu that includes such entrées as boneless duck in a ginger-tamarind sauce (gaanplo duck, $18), salmon, shrimp and scallops in a green curry coconut milk sauce (seafood bouillabaisse, $19), and pineapple cashew (chicken and shrimp with pineapple, mushrooms, scallions and cashews, served, of course, in a pineapple shell, $17).

Blue Spice duck ($18), which my daughter demanded, also features a tamarind sauce that gives the meat some sweetness, and includes crisped eggplant among the accompanying vegetables.

Curries and stir-fry dishes run in the $12-to-$13 range, with stir-fry combos like mixed vegetables with garlic sauce (Blue Valley), spicy basil (with onion, peppers, bamboo shoots and zucchini) and On the Green, a sautée with Thai peanut sauce.

Despite all gustatory evidence to suggest otherwise, my wife continues to take tofu seriously, and was happy to order it in a stir-fry with carrots, zucchini and shiitake mushrooms. Set off with ginger and cilantro, served over jasmine rice, it offered a smooth balance of flavors that veered into satisfyingly tangy areas without being heat-spicy.

This is the menu list where you’ll also find the red, green, yellow, panang and masaman curries, all coconut-milk-based but running in different seasoning directions, as well as a delightful dish that I enjoyed: Blue Mango curry, a red curry that sports mango, pineapple, green peppers, citrus and basil with the meat of your choice—in my case, chicken. Pork, tofu or a vegetable mix are also available; add a buck for beef, $3 for duck, shrimp or scallops and $6 for a seafood combo.

An identical add-the-meat (or veg) -of-your-choice schedule works with the rice and noodle dishes ($10 to $12), beginning with the well-known pad Thai and including other favorites like pad see eew (flat noodles, egg and vegetables), kee mao (a “drunken noodles” dish) and house creation Blue Spice noodles: a citrus-garlic-herb sauce over linguini noodles and the usual array of veggies and such.

We sampled an appetizer of fresh basil rolls ($6), which were crunchy and sweet, the vegetable and rice- noodle filling accented by broad fresh basil leaves. Other apps ($5 to $7) include chicken satay, edamame, steamed dumplings, crab cakes, calamari and potstickers.

Hot and sour soup goes by the name of Shrimp tom yum ($5), a delightful broth with mushrooms and scallions seasoned with lemongrass and cilantro. Tofu noodle soup ($4, my wife’s choice, of course) puts an array of ingredients (peas, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, garlic, rice noodles) in a clear, easygoing broth.

Look for lower-priced versions for lunch, where most entrées are $8—entrées like chicken red or panang curry, chicken pad Thai, beef kee mao and beef masaman curry. My daughter had the bluefinger chicken, sporting fried chicken fingers in a peanut sauce over jasmine rice. The sauce sounded appealing but proved to be sweeter than expected, almost to the point of tasting cloying.

But the beef salad (yum nuar, $8) was superb, with a bed of fresh greens topped by grilled, seasoned beef set off by lemon juice, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and more.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Blue Spice parking lot since my first visit, and it’s been impressively busy for lunch and dinner both. Without overestimating the influence of this column, I’d like to think that a few more cars may be added in the coming days, so pace yourself accordingly. But when you do get in, you’re going to enjoy it.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Tonight (Thursday) you should get yourself online and go to fsacollegestore .com, find the Ticket Sales option, and buy your way into the dinner-concert taking place at 6 PM on Monday (April 20). Your $60 secures a seat at a three-course meal crafted by Schenectady County Community College Chef Gerhard Moser, featuring butternut bisque, his signature roasted hen diab and a dessert of profiteroles. Carefully selected wine will accompany each course. This takes place at the college’s Van Curler Room, after which you’ll trot across the hall to the Lally-Mohawk Room for a concert by the Musicians of Ma’alwyck featuring music by J.C. Bach, Boieldieu and Spohr for violin, cello and harp. You need to reserve your seats now, and if the online option is too oppressive, call 377-3623. . . . Schenectady Day Nursery presents its 10th annual benefit, “A Little Bit of Jazz & More,” from 5:30 to 8 PM, April 30 at Proctors Fennimore Gallery (432 State St., Schenectady). Classé Catering’s menu includes jumbo shrimp, sesame chicken with crispy noodles, steak canapés with goat cheese, short rib sliders, potato rosti, truffle risotto cakes and more. And there will be a cheese display, tapas plates, two pasta station items and cookies and chocolates for dessert. The event also features complimentary beverages including beer and wine, and jazz by Colleen Pratt & Friends. Ticket are $50; reserve them by calling 573-0773. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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