Building the Ballot – Asia
Believe it or not, but we still have a lot of ground to cover.
Before moving forward, let’s remember the purpose of this exercise. Every year the Times Union polls the Capital Region about what’s best in the area. Only a small fraction of residents respond, but their responses help to define our region and continually cast it in a negative light. Smaller but better restaurants get left in the cold as people’s loyalties are split, and mediocrity reigns supreme.
However, if we could all agree to vote on a slate of businesses that may not be our own personal choice for The Best, but that we all recognize are certainly among the best, then a few great places might be able to break through.
Today, I’m going to ask you for your THREE top picks in a variety of categories. And I really need three. Your first choice may not make the ballot, and I want to try and make sure as many people get as many of their top picks on the ballot as possible. It’s about compromise and unity for the sake of the greater good. I do hope you will help me now and then later in April when I ask you to endorse the ballot and solicit the help from your friends and relations.
But without further ado, onto the task at hand: our Asian restaurants.
These categories are a mess. Last year they were Best Chinese/Japanese/Korean restaurant and Best Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese restaurant. Now I’m hoping that in this regard Michael Janairo will be responsive and change the Times Union’s questionnaire as per our request.
I had suggested pulling them apart into:
– Best Exclusively Chinese restaurant
– Best Exclusively Japanese restaurant
– Best Pan Asian restaurant
Given that we really only have one Indonesian restaurant and it’s one of the most highly regarded restaurants in downtown Albany, I think it’s ridiculous to include that in any category of Southeast Asia.
Many of our Thai restaurants also include sushi or other Asian fare, so those can be included in Pan Asian. I think there is broad consensus that of the places that serve exclusively Thai food that Blue Spice is the best. And I’m fine with that, and won’t even pick nits about determining which single location should be awarded this distinction. Plus Blue Spice won the category last year, so I’m fine to just leave this alone.
More and more Vietnamese places have opened up in the past year. Now instead of a horse race between My Linh and Vans, one can add Saigon Spring and Pho Yum into the mix. Having actually never been to My Linh or Saigon Spring, based on my experiences at the other two and my knowledge of all four menus, I’m prepared to call this in favor of Saigon Spring and move on. I know Vans has its fans, but what they do to the classic dish of Bun is inexcusable.
I’m most interested in your input into the three major categories outlined above. I’ll share my thoughts and I hope you weigh in with yours.
3. Emperor’s has some of the best chow fun around. It’s charred from the wok, and its noodles have a great chew. When I’m in the mood for this classic dish, this is where I go, and that’s no small thing. Sure it’s a bit oily. And yes, there are definitely some misses on the menu, but it’s a solid regional classic, that has been holding the line on authentic Chinese preparations long before anyone else.
2. Shining Rainbow has an all you can eat hot pot service. This year was an anomaly, but in a town that generally experiences eight months of winter, I cannot tell you how valuable it is to have something like this. If you’ve never been, wait for the next cold snap, grab three of your closest friends, and prepare to spend several hours noshing on meats and veggies as you build a tasty broth for a deeply flavored noodle soup. Love this place.
1. Ala Shanghai. You probably saw that coming. Not only does Ala Shanghai specialize in offering regional Chinese fare, but they have a seasonal menu to boot. This means cooling dishes like lufa and shrimp in the summer and warming dishes like chicken in wine for winter. All of this is served up at relatively modest prices, in a peaceful setting, by a friendly staff. It’s a gem.
Let it be noted that I have a predisposition against two things. One: heavily sauce-based sushi preparations that focus on fanciful rolls rather than putting simple, fresh fish front and center. Two: Teppanyaki, which I consider to be a crime against food.
3. Shogun Sushi – I’m tempted to leave them off because of the Pad Thai on their menu. But I’m not convinced that one dish makes them Pan Asian. But still it makes me very uncomfortable.
2. Yoshi Sushi – All the sushi is made by Chef Yoshi, who has 37 years of experience preparing sushi and Japanese dishes.
1. Sushi Tei – It’s not just the sushi, but all the other home-style Japanese dishes they offer as well. This is what makes them the best Japanese restaurant. Japanese cuisine is more than just slicing up raw fish and making volcanoes out of onions.
This is the big catchall group for any sushi place that serves Thai, any Chinese place that serves sushi (and may have a Japanese name), or any Thai place that serves Korean food.
3. Sushi Thai Garden
2. Sake Cafe
1. Kinnaree – Is the only one that really matters in this race. Not only are their Thai dishes delightful, they actually have tasty Korean food to boot. In this case having multiple cuisines isn’t a liability (I don’t know who thinks it’s a good idea to have fermented Thai fish sauce stinking up a kitchen where someone might be eating sushi nearby).
I know there is a lot here to respond to today, but I really value your input. Let’s hear it.