Japanese Noodle House
218 Central Ave., Albany, 436-7789. Serving
lunch Tue-Fri 11:45-1:30, Tue-Thu 5-9:30, Fri-Sat 5-10. AE,
D, MC, V
Entrée price range: $10 (chicken teriyaki rice bowl)
to $21 (tuna teriyaki)
Ambiance: a gentle contrast to Central Avenue
Clientele: as varied and consistent as the soups themselves
are stews, there are soups, and then there’s Japanese noodle
soup. The first two have more in common with each other than
the noodle soup has in common with either. Prepared correctly,
noodle soup becomes a logic-defying entity in which a number
of discrete elements swim together in a flavorful broth, and
yet those elements never lose their individual identities.
This can be difficult for us stew-saturated Americans to appreciate.
With our insane booster-boisterous spirit, we pile on the
layers, the sounds, the colors. We saturate our senses, and
we train those senses to demand ever more saturation. When
it comes to food, we demand huge portions and thick sauces
and we’re unhappy if all the taste buds aren’t firing at once.
What’s missing is a sense of time, and it’s the most crucial
sensory component, because time alone allows us to assimilate
and interpret what the senses have taken in. That’s when we
become part of the creative process, but such a process calls
for a measure of intellect.
That, too, is in short supply. It’s part of the American spirit.
When we talk about “freedom fries,” when we suffer (and suffer
from) the fools in the White House, we continue to celebrate
our native anti-intellectualism.
So let’s wise up to noodle soup, at least. You slurp, you
taste. You think about it for a moment as the flavor continues
to unfold across your palate. You add a thicket of noodles,
wrestling with their unruly ends. You seize a small island
of pork with your chopsticks and enjoy its damp sweetness.
You need no lesson from me: Find Juzo Itami’s quirky 1985
film Tampopo and learn the zen of noodle soup in what
may be the world’s only noodle western. Then you’ll rush to
Saso’s to enjoy firsthand a bowl of miso ramen ($11).
In fact, this was my daughter Lily’s choice of entrée during
a recent visit. She arrived craving miso soup, and was pleased
to discover that it can be configured to include all the extra
ingredients, particularly the egg noodles that carry the miso
flavor so well.
Perhaps she was destined to enjoy such fare. The last we reviewed
Saso’s, we were a couple of weeks away from the birth of our
daughter, and I reported my wife’s enthusiasm for the shrimp
tempura ramen ($11), in which a flurry of lightly battered,
deep-fried shrimp and vegetables mix with other veggies and
egg noodles. She deemed it wonderfully (and nutritionally)
appropriate for a pregnant woman, which, according to Kathy
Saso, prompted many visits from women in that condition.
Kathy and Yasuo Saso met in 1990 while both worked at Hiro’s,
the venerable teppanyake restaurant on Central Avenue. They
married three years later, and opened Saso’s in 1996. To endure
for nearly a decade is a signal achievement in this market,
but the restaurant not only has survived—it has flourished.
The Sasos bought the building in which the restaurant started
as a tenant, and they added an adjoining parking lot.
Recent refurbishments include new paint on the walls and a
fresh look to the dining room, which always has been a study
in elegant simplicity. A sushi bar dominates the back of the
room, but we sat at a roomy table nearby, ordered a bowl of
edamame ($5) with our drinks, and considered a dining
strategy from the varied menu. Edamame are green beans
served in steamed and salted pods you pop open, and they’re
as addictive as peanuts.
The appetizer list alone provides choice enough for several
visits, and it’s abetted by a specials page with even more
to choose from. And that’s not to mention the sushi. Plenty
of seafood, as well as familiar fare like chicken kushikatsu
($7), in which skewers of meat and onions are breaded and
fried, and exotic items like hamachi kama—grilled yellowtail
cheek with a daikon relish ($10). I opted for the simplicity
of cold noodles with shrimp and cucumber ($7), and it was
simple only insofar as the many flavors revealed themselves
sequentially and then blended unobtrusively, adding up to
a great sense of well-being.
A chef-recommended special of pork ribs ($8.25) boasted the
effects of slow cooking, with meat that was amazingly tender,
the sweetness of which was set off by the accompanying mustard
In the sushi department, we shared a Kathy roll ($9.25), which,
Kathy explained, begins as a spicy tuna roll but adds shaved
avocado as an outer layer, surrounding the vinegared rice.
“Saso didn’t want to explain why he named it after me,” she
said, “but I do hear him complaining what a pain it is.”
Not one to pass up a favorite thing, my wife enjoyed another
version of shrimp tempura with the nabeyaki soba ($11),
adding chicken and steamed veggies to a soy broth filled with
buckwheat noodles. But she could only slurp her way halfway
through before having the rest packed for the morrow’s lunch.
Two seafood specials displayed Saso’s dexterity with entrée
design: the grilled escolar ($22) puts sake-marinated white
tuna front and center, surrounded by a textural variety of
crisp string beans and crunchy potato croquettes—the last-named
evoking memories of childhood comfort food. And the grilled
mackerel ($16) gets the shioyaki treatment, in which
salt is rubbed on it in lieu of a marinade before it’s grilled
over high heat. It’s served with a sauce made from ground
daikon, balancing what saltiness remains in the meat.
Balance is such a key component of Japanese cuisine that it’s
hard to escape a sense of contentment. The barley tea that’s
available puts a soft finish to the meal, although we did
find appetite space for some fried apple crisp with ice cream,
a rich, fairly unrestrained dessert.
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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.
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
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!
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..