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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Star of Asia

By B.A. Nilsson

Buffalo Wagon

Wolf Road Park, 6 Metro Park Road, Colonie, 689-0938. Serving 11-10 Mon-Thu, 11-11 Fri-Sat, noon-9:30 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: pan-Asian

Entrťe price range: $7 (lo mein) to $22.50 (Chilean sea bass)

Ambiance: good of its kind

What gets on my nerves about P.F. Changís, that teeming chain, is the combination of hype and bustle. It preys on our deep-seated sense of being lonely and frightened, and thrusts its diners into a realm of nonstop sensory assault. This, of course, is perfect for mall shoppers, whose ears are dimmed by the constant noise and senses dulled by the visual explosions. At some point, you cry ďEnough!Ē Youíre looking for a meal, for sustenance, an experience that ought to be a pleasure. You donít care what your serverís name is, and you donít need a menu with pictures. Escape. Take a P.F. flyer.

Shrink the livestock in front of that restaurant, turn down the noise, put some room between the tablesóin fact, put in the Japanese concept of minimal design accentsóand youíre only a scant mile up Wolf Road at a three-month-old eatery called Buffalo Wagon. Yes, the name connotes cowboys or chicken wings, but itís a salute to the water buffalo, a bulwark of ancient China. The name also suggests a chain restaurant, and the facade and Web site both display that slickness, but itís a singular entity.

The restaurant occupies a location that has been home (if Iím remembering correctly) to a Chinese buffet and a short-lived Mongolian grill, but it looks as if it were made for the space. My family stopped in on a recent Friday evening and liked the feel of the place immediately. Perhaps itís a tiresome observation at this point, but we noted that we were among the few Occidentals dining in a fairly busy room.

We passed the sushi bar en route to our table, and I looked with longing at the row of empty seats facing the three busy sushi chefs. But I am wedded to one to whom raw fish is anathema, and obediently trudged to a more conventional seat.

Service here didnít have the handing-you-off quality I expect in such places. Our hostess fussed over us for a bit as she welcomed us and determined our beverage order. And while most of the meal was under the purview of a single server, dishes emerged from the kitchen on the arms of others. They arrived at a good pacing, too, and items were cleared and wrapped with wonderful efficiency.

Menu diversity seems to be the order of the day with Asian eateries. Amid a capacious array of the expected, ranging from Peking duck ($38 for two) to Cantonese lo mein ($7), lurk dishes from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, along with a lengthier list of Japanese items, including tempura and teriyaki preparations. And keep in mind the $6 lunch specials (11-3 Mon-Sun), which give a brief, best-of accounting of the regular menu.

My daughter and I kicked off with sushi and makisushi. The former consisted of brilliant little slabs of tuna ($5) and salmon ($4) over vinegared rice, the latter a spicy, creamy salmon roll ($5.25) with cucumber and scallions. The orders were combined on an attractive platter and boasted a breezy freshness. And thereís much, much more on the list, in addition to daily sushi specials.

One of my cook-at-home specialties is cold sesame noodles in spicy peanut sauce, so I gave the competition a chance and ordered the $5 appetizer. While the sauce didnít taste like out-of-the-jar peanut butter, as sometimes is the case, it was too thick to easily combine with the noodles, which is more work than I usually care to inflict on a starter.

Order a chefís specialty, as I did, and it comes with soup, so I can report that the hot-and-sour brew is superior to most in the area. My wife ordered the chicken and creamy corn soup, which is served for a minimum of two ($5.50) and could easily portion out to one or two more. It has the consistency of egg drop soup, yet hits the flavor areas of corn chowder. An odd combo, but an endearing one.

The menu of Cantonese dishes divides them by main component; thus, beef, pork, poultry and the like each gets about a dozen preparations. Seafood, too, with the bonus that thereís a tank at the rear of the dining room where you can watch your soon-to-be dinner swim.

Pork chop in Peking sauce ($9) is open to interpretation. Here, itís deep-fried cutlet pieces tossed in a dark, sweet sauce with accompanying vegetables and enough depth of flavor to keep from the candy-counter characteristic of, say, General Tsoís chicken.

Youíll find your eggplant and tofu dishes (including, heaven help us, General Tsoís tofu) in the vegetables list, all priced around $8. From the adjacent noodle-dishes list, my wife chose a preparation that combined pan-fried noodles with shrimp, chicken and beef for $9, and professed herself quite pleased. But that was when she wasnít spearing sneaky tastes of my crispy shredded beef ($14), in which the meat is battered and fried, unexpectedly but deliciously crunchy and probably, what with its sweet sauce, bad for you as hell.

The dinner yielded a sizeable shopping bag of weekend lunches and a few menus tucked into our pockets. Another good, non-chain restaurant on Wolf Road is excellent news indeed.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

The best dinners provoke a sense of total well-being. I am wired such that my own sense is strongest when Iím enjoying an excellent post-prandial cigar. If itís an occasion to stretch out and sneak in some puffs between courses, thatís all the better. And what better menu than a hearty Italian meal, an event meant to go on and on by tradition. Village Pizzeria in Galway (2727 Route 29, at the junction of Route 147) is hosting just such an event at 6:30 PM Tuesday, May 19, where youíll feast on a six-course meal including pork osso buco, grilled broccoli rabe and cheese sausages, Tuscan kale with white beans and rabbit ragout, served alongside a variety of Super Tuscans, Barolos, Brunellos and Port. And youíll get three fine cigars, courtesy of Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe. The price is $100 per person, which includes access to the restaurantís bocce courts and putting green as well. Info: 882-9431. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.



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