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Cheating on Uncle Lanny

December 18, 2017

Perhaps the very worst meal of my life came from what was the most highly regarded Chinese restaurant in Albany as we were preparing to move here in 2007.

This was especially tragic for me as I am a big fan of Chinese food. My former office used to be on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and I would explore many of the smaller out of the way places on my lunch breaks. Sometimes these breaks might take the better part of two hours.

Hey, you’ve got to have priorities.

But then, there was a light in the darkness. Lanny Lao opened Ala Shanghai, and he brought not just glorious soup dumplings to the Capital Region, but also a changing seasonal menu of traditional and regional Chinese dishes. At some point Albany Jane started to affectionately call him “Uncle Lanny” and the nickname stuck.

Several great Chinese restaurants have opened up since then, still Ala Shanghai has remained my favorite. Sure, I will go to Hong Kong Bakery for their buns and chow fun, Taiwan Noodles for cheap comfort food, and SHU for fiery Szechuan cuisine. You can find me at Northeast chinese for boiled dumplings, Shining Rainbow should I need a hot pot fix, and Ocean Palace for salt and pepper squid.

None of these make me feel disloyal to Uncle Lanny. But on Friday, we just got a new Shanghaiese place in Colonie. And I was compelled to try it out with Albany Jane. Because, you know, eating is what we do.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t feel guilty about it.

Especially since Hu’s House is owned by a fellow who came from Ala Shanghai. In fact, according to Steve B, Mr. Hu had worked with Uncle Lanny for six years.

Until yesterday, I had never been in the building at 1619 Central Avenue. It was most recently a Thai restaurant, and it’s across the street from what was at one point one of the most beloved Thai places in the area: Blue Spice (which later became Orange Mango). The restaurant actually looks bigger from the outside, but inside during lunch it’s filled with natural light.

From the street, despite the new sign, the building looked like it might have been closed. Happily, the illuminated “Open” sign in the window put any concerns to rest.

Let me skip straight to the question everyone wants to know. How were the soup dumplings?

Promising. The broth itself is amazingly flavorful, and the meatball was delightfully tender. There were just two elements that could be improved upon.

I hate to even mention the first one, since I have a little bit of a bad reputation on this front. But one thing you’ll notice right away is that the soup dumplings themselves are on the larger side. Unfortunately, the spoons that you have to contain the dumplings are on the smaller side with relatively shallow bowls. Yes. It’s the spoons. However, that’s easy to fix. And it’s very possible that after only two days of operation, their “official” soup dumpling spoons just simply have not arrived.

The second one is a common criticism of many soup dumplings far and wide, and that’s about the thickness of the skins. They are on the thicker side, and the experience of eating them would be better with a thinner wrapper.

That said, let’s remember that the soup dumplings at Ala Shanghai have improved over the years. The dumpling skins have gotten thinner, and the volume of broth has increased.

We also tried the scallion pancake (which was oddly devoid of scallions), the boiled pork and leek dumplings which I enjoyed, and the spicy wontons which were a hit with the kids. Albany Jane’s heart seemed to belong to the soup dumplings and their broth.

But we were just there for a light lunch before Sunday night’s latke fest. The rest of the menu looked incredibly tempting. Although one of the dishes we were interested in ordering wasn’t quite ready for service. We tried to order a cold appetizer of beef tendon with tripe, and were denied.

No big deal. This is sometimes what happens on day three of a restaurant.

One big difference between Ala Shanghai and Hu’s House right now is that Hu’s House has no lines to get in, and you don’t need a reservation…yet. Hu’s House also happens to be on the way home from Sunday school, which could prove to be a dangerous thing.

I love soup dumplings, but I don’t think I need to eat them every week.

Still, I”m looking forward to seeing how this new restaurant grows over time, and I’m hoping to get back with a crew of people to try a bunch more dishes. There are a few big round tables complete with a spinning center, and this is exactly the kind of place where it’s best to bring a large party so you can try a broad swath of the menu.

If you don’t have a group of such adventurous eaters in your life, feel free to try to arrange a meet up in the comments here. But lately there have been a few enterprising members of the local Yelp community who have been orchestrating these kinds of casual eating outings. I try to get in on as many of those as possible. Maybe I’ll see you there.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2017 11:19 am

    I can’t wait to try them. Drove by and saw it last week. Thanks for the review!!! xxx

  2. Dave permalink
    December 19, 2017 6:40 am

    We like Yang’s Asian Bistro in Latham

  3. Albany Jane permalink
    December 19, 2017 10:50 am

    Always a treat dining with the Fussy Little Crew.

  4. Matt M permalink
    December 21, 2017 12:49 am

    Good to see a review, but the smorgasbord of stock photos on Hu’s website raises a red flag. You took a few informed photos with a cell phone that are more truthful. So far I see a restaurant that plagiarizes food and photos on the menu.

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