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Ten Days and Counting

February 4, 2011

This will be the second day in a row in which I am posting about things that I’ve eaten. This is not what I am here to do.

Yesterday’s was about my own personal mission to eat less conventionally produced meat. The thing about personal missions is that they are personal. Maybe over time I will get you to care about turning away from factory-farmed meat. But the way I’m going to get you there isn’t by telling you the trials and tribulations of my fussy little diet.

Today I am compelled to tell you about an exceptional meal, and an exceptional value, that can only be had by those within spitting distance of the Capital Region. Normally, this might be something I put on Yelp, but let’s just say I need a little space from my favorite restaurant guide.

I am compelled because the clock is ticking. And even once you hear all the details of this meal, it’s not just a matter of picking up the phone, making a reservation and going. You’ll need to enlist a few of your most trusted and adventurous friends. Trust me, the ten remaining days will go quickly.

You can not only read about this meal but see pictures of everything on Albany Eats, since it was Albany Jane who invited me to Ala Shanghai for Chinese New Year. The restaurant has created several special family-style menus for the occasion, which are available through February 13.

We were eight. And being the little piggies that we were, we also tacked on two orders of pork soup dumplings to the meal and walked out paying $23 per person inclusive of tax and tip. For the sake of comparison, that is less than the listed entrée price for the Duck-Duck-Goose Risotto at The Point in Albany. For those who are curious, that’s “Duck leg confit, on the bone, atop creamy Arborio rice with duck sausage, poached pears, goat cheese garnished with a gooseberry demiglace.”

What follows is the progression of our feast. I may have a couple things out of order. If you can believe it I wasn’t taking notes or pictures, but rather enjoying the company and the seemingly endless parade of Chinese dishes that one would not expect to find in upstate New York. After looking at Albany Jane’s post I may have the order a bit off, but I’m sticking with this taxonomy.

The Appetizers
1)    12 soup dumplings.
2)    4 cold appetizers, which included a cold sliced beef that had delicious fatty and gelatinous bits, which made it my favorite of the bunch.

The Delicate
3)    Seafood Tofu Soup that was light enough to let the flavor of the scallops, shrimp and squid shine through. It was the scallops that really won me over.
4)    Sauteed Shrimp, barely sauced with white wine so that the dish was all about the taste of fresh shrimp.

The Unusual
5)    Crispy Flounder Filet with Seaweed, which is a lot different than it sounds. Seaweed is toasted and then ground into a flour. The flour is then mixed into a batter, which coats the fish. There is no sauce, only a dish of salt and pepper for added seasoning. This is delicious.

6)    Sea Cucumber with Triple Delights was one of the more exciting dishes of the evening. Can you believe I’ve never had a sea cucumber until last night? Well, I hadn’t. It’s expensive, and given that I was unsure of how I’d like it, I never took the gamble. It was a treat to have it as part of a feast, and now I can say with confidence that it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. You should try it too.

The Meat
7)    Peking Pork Chop may have been my favorite thing of the night, but I love gnawing on bones. These were breaded and fried bits of bone-in pork chop covered with a sweet and salty brown sauce. It’s an entrée on their regular menu that only costs $11, and I’m thinking more of this is in my future.

8)    Whole Crispy Duck was presented on a platter, cut into plenty of small pieces for a party of eight. I kept on going back for more. And more. Then still more. When there was only one piece left, I was sure to make sure nobody else wanted it before I snatched it up and munched on the crackling skin, and its rich, ducky flesh.

The Veggies
9)    Bok Choy with Black Mushroom was picture perfect. Really, it was. Each of the vegetables had a perfect sheen. They were cooked to that marvelous intersection between toothsome and tender.

10)  Yang Chow Fried Rice was studded with crisp diced onions. That was interesting. For me it really brightened up something that is traditionally very heavy. I’m not so sure it had enough vegetables to qualify as a serving, but it was a tasty way to round out the meal. This was the only dish that we didn’t eat clean. But that was a matter of capacity. Besides the four cold appetizers, none of the plates were small.

The Sweets
11)  Steamed Red Bean Buns were blistering hot, and some of the most tender steamed buns I’ve had in the area. I can’t say I know the secret behind what makes one bun tender and another one tough, but I can say I know a good one when I eat it.

12) Tiny Rice Ball in Sweet Soup pretty much describes what this was. A hot soup for second dessert, with small glutenous balls of rice floating in the bottom of a sweet soup. I’ve never had anything quite like it, and it was great to have this deeply warming dessert before heading out into the chill of an Albany winter night.

Did I mention all of this was only $23? But the secret is you need eight people. And they need to be adventurous eaters. And they need to be well mannered enough to estimate their fair share of a portion so that each platter makes it all the way around the table, at least once. Not that it’s hard to do, given the amount of food on each platter. Many of ours made it around several times, and nobody left hungry. Nobody.

Most everyone felt like they needed to be wheeled out of the place.

Now stop reading, pick up the phone, and start calling those friends. Getting eight people to show up at the same place and at the same time is harder than it sounds. Kudos to Albany Jane for making last night happen. It’s an auspicious beginning for her in this year of the rabbit.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonia permalink
    February 4, 2011 1:01 pm

    This all sounds amazing, especially the flounder. We will definitely have to go check it out. I never have Chinese anymore since I haven’t found anywhere around here that I like.

  2. llcwine permalink
    February 4, 2011 1:59 pm

    I drove by twice last night, and boy was it packed. I wish I had stopped in if not for the yummy food, but to finally meet all of you – and scarf a nibble?!!!

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 4, 2011 2:02 pm

    Steve Barnes has an amusing post about sea cucumber this morning.

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