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A Very Jewish Christmas

December 23, 2010

Somehow I got it all wrong.  Seriously, I expected to be down at the farm in Pennsylvania, sipping on some of my father-in-law’s home made eggnog and dining on a standing rib roast for Christmas.

Turns out we aren’t leaving for Pennsylvania until after the holiday.

That means, I’ll be able to celebrate a traditional Jewish Christmas with Chinese food and a movie.  With the kids, especially the little one, the movie may have to be at home.  But really I’m most excited about the Chinese food.

I’ll have to do a bit of recon to figure out which place is open, but I’m thankful to at least have options.  I take my Chinese pretty seriously.

China is a big place.  There are a lot of regional dishes and styles of cooking from which a Chinese restaurant can choose.  Each has its own specialty ingredients and techniques.  One day I hope there will be a Sichuan restaurant that only has food from that province in the Capital Region.

But in Albany I am content to find a Chinese restaurant that doesn’t draw from several other Asian cuisines as well.  It’s fairly typical here for Chinese restaurants to have Japanese and Thai food on the menu.  Luckily that has been changing, and we now even have a market with hanging ducks.

Here are the spots currently vying for my holiday dinner:

It’s the old guard of Chinese restaurants in Albany that are actually Chinese.  But it’s a bit spotty.  The beef chow fun is the best I’ve had in the area, and the FUSSYlittleCHILDREN are big fans of “Asian pasta.”  However, some of the dim sum is just flat out nasty, and they have a lot of unremarkable Americanized dishes on the menu as well.

As I was scoping out Albany, one of my first meals was at Ocean Palace.  Yelp advised that it was the best Chinese food in town.  Mrs. Fussy and I probably ordered wrong, but it was weak.  Granted, we were still living in the Bay Area and our bar for Chinese food was super high.  But the people behind this old guard institution opened up CCK, and it’s certainly solid, especially their salt and pepper fried squid.  Plus I really appreciate that they have no sushi bar.

Shining Rainbow
A newer addition to the Albany Chinese restaurant scene, and they actually have hot pot.  Hot pot is a fantastic and festive way to celebrate with friends and family.  It’s kind of like eating at the Melting Pot, but without all the fake fanciness, ridiculous prices, and boiling cauldron of oil on your table.  Still, accidentally knocking over a pot of hot broth can really ruin your day.  We may need to wait on this until Little Miss Fussy is a bit older.  Oh, and despite having bona fide Chinese treats like hot pot and salted duck, Shining Rainbow shamefully has a sushi bar.  If I didn’t love hot pot so much, this fact would pull them off this list.

ALA Shanghai
Soup dumplings.  Soup dumplings.  Soup dumplings.  Seriously, if left to my own devices, I might just keep placing orders for the things until either the kitchen ran out, or I couldn’t put back any more.  They do make some of their own noodles in house, and I’ve heard they go very well in the soup.  Little Miss Fussy loves their scallion pancake, and I bet Young Master Fussy would get a kick out of the inherent mystery of soup dumplings.

Tai Pan
Recently the Times Union wrote a very positive review about their dim sum. I’m suspicious at best.  But given that I’ve been very unhappy with the other dim sum options at my disposal, I figure a trip here is worth the drive.  Still dim sum is more brunch-type food, and probably not what I’m looking for on Christmas.  That, and they do also serve other Asian cuisines, which makes me even more suspicious about their ability to execute delicious dim sum.  We’ll have to see.

For a while, there was only one restaurant on this list, Emperor’s.  But since I’ve arrived here, there has been a great boom of actual Chinese restaurants serving actual Chinese food.

It’s like a Christmas miracle.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2010 11:08 am

    I understand your suspicion, but I assure you Tai Pan’s dim sum is great. Definitely the best in the area (I never tried dim sum at Shining Rainbow, but the dumplings I ordered there did not impress me. At Ocean Palace and Emperor Palace, dim sum seems like an afterthought.)

  2. December 23, 2010 11:16 am

    I am having a similar dilemma for Christmas Eve’s dinner – now made more complicated by your throwing in additional potential dining places… If we elect to go “eat-in” it will be Emperor’s Palace – their salt & pepper squid is pretty spectacular most of the time and the waiters always treat us very well. For take-out, I’m leaning towards CCK. Their delivery guy is so pleasant and their stuffed eggplant is epic. I’ve tried ala Shanghai a couple of times and find it enjoyable, but the soup dumplings always seem more “dry” than the ones I initially fell in love with at Joe’s Shanghai in NYC. Haven’t been to Tai Pan in years – not convenient, but I remember their hot and sour soup fondly. Shining Rainbow’s hot pot is on my list to try in 2011. Enjoy the holiday!

  3. December 23, 2010 11:42 am

    It’s a pretty good dilemma to have. A few years back and Sil can back me up that there were a few less players on the field.

    This has been the year I’m absolutely in love the Ala, so yeah. But the others have some solid dishes, too. Not NYC quality, but still, solid real Chinese, not this Americanized moo goo gai pan crap from the cheap chinese corner place. Good dilemma to have.

  4. December 23, 2010 12:47 pm

    I used to really dislike Chinese food(local) and now I want Shining Rainbow at least once a week. Their fried rice is authentic and absolutely amazing, the little pork bits are so juicy and tender. Don’t mind the sushi bar, they actually have really fresh and good sushi, I enjoy their sushi over Sake Cafe’s now. Their noodles are really good too, I usually go with the shredded duck chow fun. They really changed my mind on eating Chinese food locally.

  5. Phairhead permalink
    December 23, 2010 1:09 pm

    Emperor’s pepper sauce is not to be missed!

  6. Matt K permalink
    December 23, 2010 1:32 pm

    Tai Pan has pretty great Dim Sum (if they had little carts, it’d be perfect, but, sadly, one has to order off the menu. The rest of their food is pretty good.

    Full disclosure: I always ate pretty bad American-Chinese food for Christmas, so that’s what I crave. We’ll probably be getting take out from China Wang in Malta!

  7. December 23, 2010 8:00 pm

    Emperor’s has bad dim sum? I go there often, and I’d say it’s some of the best you can get in the area.

    CCK — I went there once, and the dumplings were crunchy. Dumplings should NOT be crunchy. It was gross. I don’t even want to know what part of what animal was in there that shouldn’t have been. Never again.

    Shining Rainbow wasn’t bad, but it’s in a really sketchy area, which makes me not want to go there again.

    Tai Pan is the best outside of Albany I’ve had, but their dim sum menu can be confusing.

    Ala Shanghai was very inconsistent. The soup dumplings were delicious, but the ma goo gai pan was disgusting (seriously, canned mushrooms???) — and I’ve had it cooked authentically, so I know what it’s supposed to taste like.

    If you’re doing takeout, Shing Fung in Clifton Park is a good bet.

  8. December 23, 2010 11:05 pm

    The one time we ordered CCK it was iffy at best, but seeing this review I may have to give it another shot. C and I liked Ocean Palace and were sad when it closed. I’ve been doing delivery Chinese from Shining Rainbow, and while it is leaps and bounds better than Ichiban (which is, in turn, leaps and bounds better than most of the other Chinese delivery places), it’s still quite spotty.

    Most of the stuff C and I have ordered from Emperor’s is very solid. C is a big fan of their dumplings, and I agree – the chow fun is really, REALLY great.

    You should really check out Ming’s in Schenectady. There’s no delivery, and it’s kind of a trip (it’s a bit down the road from the Balltown Rd plaza, on Route 5, barely over the city line), but it is hands down the best Chinese food in the area. A former coworker – who lives down the street from it, lucky man – raved and raved and raved about this place. I trusted his food judgment based on other ventures, so we made the trip one day. C said it was the best Chinese he’s had since living in NYC.

    Also, for sit-down dinners, Yip’s in East Greenbush is pretty solid as well, though I’ve only eaten there once. I got the chow fun, and I found it to be on par with Emperor’s. Plus, they have a liquor license and a halfway decent bar, which is a bonus.

  9. December 25, 2010 12:00 pm

    CCK outdid themselves last night! Our order was substantial: Peking Duck, fried squid, seafood and bean curd hot pot, spicy beef satay chow fun, sesame chicken, har kow, steamed dumplings, hot and sour soup, Chinese broccoli…they really nailed it. Highlights were the chow fun – spicy from pepper and flavorful and the broccoli, for me. The boys decimated the duck. Delicious.

  10. Third Auntie permalink
    December 27, 2010 7:19 pm

    CCK is my favorite Chinese restaurant. Lately, I have been there 3 weekends in a row. The stuffed eggplant is so very very good; beef chow fun is made the way you would find it in Chinatown (it has that wonderful breath of the wok char); the stuffed bean curd skins are delicious; simple stir-fried choy sum greens with garlic and ginger are a must; chicken with black mushrooms and vegetables is simply prepared in true Cantonese style. Not all the dim sum items are perfect but the majority are prepared very well. When the restaurant is full, it really does feel like you are in Chinatown.

    Emperor’s is unfortunately out of the way for us. When they were on Lark, we did eat there often. But, I do think CCK is better. We ate once at Shining Rainbow. Food was good but oily. We need to go back and try them again. The one time we went to Yip’s, it was horrible. They are stuck in the past cooking Americanized Chinese food. Everything we ordered was brown and drowned in soy sauce. I wanted to ask them, “Can you not see that I am Chinese and this is unacceptable food?” Ala Shanghai was ok, not great, when we went. We need to give them another try but they are also out of the way for us.

    So where did you go for dinner in the end?

  11. December 29, 2010 1:12 pm

    Hearing CCK is the best from a Chinese person makes me want to try it again. :)

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