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King for a Day
By B.A. Nilsson

Emperor’s
10 Wolf Road, Colonie, 591-0628. Serving Sun-Thu 11-11, Fri-Sat 11-midnight. MC, V.

Cuisine: Hong Kong via Chinatown
Entrée price range: $7 (noodle soup) to $17.50 (fried oysters)
Ambience: unprepossessing
Clientele: buffet weary

Emperor’s first appeared as Emperor’s Palace a decade ago at Lark Street and Madison Avenue in Albany, where it boasted a greater Hong Kong—style authenticity than other such area establishments. Just over a year ago it relocated to Wolf Road and shortened its name, taking up residence alongside a daunting number of more mainstream eateries, with chain outlets galore as neighbors. This was the home of the Kansas City Grill a while ago, and before that it was Ellie Mae’s Country Fixins. But as home to Emperor’s, it offers the new restaurant something it never really enjoyed on Madison Avenue: parking.

True to its original vision, Emperor’s still offers a more varied menu than you’ll find at any other Asian restaurant around here—especially as so many succumb to buffet blandness.

You may remember the fish tanks at the original location. They’re here in the new space, although barely stocked during our couple of visits. The dining room is comfortable without being fancy, a generous amount of tables with simple coverings and functional serving ware.

Service is brisk, personable and low-key. Too low-key in one case: When I noted that an order of scallion dumplings ($6.25) was marred by still being slightly frozen on the inside, the server nodded and said, “Should have been heated up a couple more minutes,” but did nothing to rectify the problem.

On a return visit, we tried the vegetable dumplings ($5). Like the scallion dumplings, they’re enclosed in a sticky, almost translucent rice-based wrapper that interacts more tastily with the supplied dipping sauce. And these were heated through just fine.

The spring rolls ($3.25) are light and crisp and nicely seasoned; while we’re on the appetizer list, beware the roast pork ($9)—it’s a meal in itself, abetted by a sweetish sauce, that should be shared by a large party.

The voluminous menu is supplemented by a specialties page. As of a couple of weeks ago, several entrées based on Chilean sea bass were listed, along with a handful of shrimp-and-scallop combo specials (even including a General Tso’s shrimp and scallop).

The General Tso business, as I’ve noted in earlier columns, started in this country. As a menu item, it first appeared 40 years ago in a Manhattan restaurant. The meat-stuff in question, typically chicken, gets a cornstarch coating that’s crisped by deep-frying, and then it’s served in a sweet orange sauce. This is my daughter’s one and only reason for visiting an Asian restaurant (okay, she likes dumplings, too), and we indulged her this fancy during one visit (it’s $10).

Typically prepared with a sprinkling of red pepper hulls, I asked for a mild version. It arrived bristling with hulls, which I transferred to my plate. Otherwise, I was transferring meat from a hot pot, a preparation of satay beef ($14) that was pungent and salty, but not nearly as spicy as I’d hoped when I asked for the temperature to be raised. At least I had those hulls.

Back at the regular menu, noodle soups are another specialty here, running $7 for the standard size. Soy-sauce chicken fun soup combines cleaver-cut chicken breast portions with a filling broth and rice noodles, a dish that works well for any meal, and probably, based on the portion size we saw, also will provide an extra meal.

Plenty of lo mein dishes are available for the faint of palate, and all of your favorite chicken, beef and pork dishes are here—along with many less-familiar preparations. The list of seafood items is longest, and runs from the unsurprising (shrimp with lobster sauce, $12) to specialty items like conch with duck feet (seasonally priced).

With so much to choose from, my wife zeroed in on fried bean curd with vegetables ($9), a tofu stew with a mix of bean pods, carrots and the like in an easygoing, gelatinous sauce. A little too low-key for my taste.

I persuaded my daughter away from General Tso by ordering shun fah golden chicken from the specials list ($15), and then ended up eating most of it. Crisped bits of chopped garlic decorated a plate of deep-fried chicken with crackling skin, in a pungent sauce livened with sweetness (and garlic, of course).

This was in trade for my order of beef stew and white turnip with curry sauce in a hot pot ($14), although we both had to learn to trim the gristly fat from the meat, which appreciably reduced the portion size. Good seasonings, though, with a curry mix complicated enough to please me and spicy enough to please but not dismay my daughter.

Even with the criticisms I’ve noted, this remains one of the top Asian restaurants in the area. The variety is astonishing—and reassuring. If there’s one thing American culture is good at, it’s taking anybody else’s culinary art and tempering it into blandness. We see this in too many popular ethnic restaurants, so let’s celebrate one place that’s still holding on to its own identity.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Enjoy a tour of the food and wine of Spain at Nicole’s Bistro at the Quackenbush House (Clinton Avenue and Broadway, Albany) on Sept. 18 at 6 PM. Chef Daniel E. Smith has assembled a menu that includes gazpacho, seafood ceviche, pork tenderloin with orange- chipotle sauce and flan with black mission figs. Each course is paired with an appropriate wine (Marques de Grinon Rioja with the pork, for example), and the evening begins with tapas and Rose Brut Marques de Monistrol. It’s $65 per person, and you can reserve seats by calling the restaurant at 465-1111. . . . A fall wine-tasting dinner is featured at Ferrandi’s French Restaurant (Route 67, Amsterdam) Sept. 18-21, during which chef-owner Eric Masson, a native of France, will serve a four-course meal paired with three glasses of wine. Appetizer choices include coquilles St. Jacques in a curry and saffron wine sauce, smoked duck breast salad and an escargot and wild mushroom casserole; entrée choices are sliced filet mignon sautéed with shallots, mushrooms and smoked ham; poached salmon in a Pernod beurre blanc and a lamb shank confit with garlic, tomato and fresh herbs. Dinner is $40 per person, and you can get more information (or make reservations) by calling 842-6977 or visiting www.ferrandis.net. . .Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (food@banilsson.com).

(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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