Ala Shanghai: Ending the InfamyFebruary 14, 2011
It is with great surprise and delight, and very slight regret, that we announce that there is good Chinese food in Albany! Let me explain about the slight regret; there are certain things in life you just become accustomed to – snow in the winter, apple-picking in the fall, and no good Chinese food in Albany. In fact, it’s one of the first things I tell people about Albany when they ask about local cuisine: “We have good Indian food and some other stuff, but no good Chinese.” And until today, I assumed that would always be the case. But no, sadly, Albany will have to be infamous for something else with regard to ethnic food. Ala Shanghai in Latham finally – FINALLY – brings quality Chinese cooking to the area.
The decor of the restaurant is very minimal – bright orange, turquoise and black walls, with flairs of Chinese lanterns and paper screens. It’s fairly bright and inviting, without being over the top. The staff is very friendly and helpful, and will happily recommend dishes to you based on your personal preferences. I was pretty confident that Ala Shanghai was the real deal based on several of their menu items. Sea cucumber, anyone? Sauteed shredded eel? Fish head casserole? I don’t recall seeing these at any other Chinese place in Albany. Their dim sum menu was very appealing, reminding me of many of the dishes I had while in China, such as the pan-fried dumplings, scallion pancakes, and the steamed buns, my favorite. We started with an order of crispy wontons and the red bean steamed buns. Most places serve wontons fried to super-crispiness in a thick batter, with a thimbleful of meat in the middle. Ala Shanghai’s were very different, and all the better for it. The light and flaky dough on the outside gave way to Chinese greens, pork and spices in the middle – a nice big bite of them too. It was served with a soy-like dipping sauce that was very tasty. Best wontons we’ve ever had. One bite of the red bean buns and I was back in Beijing. The soft and chewy bun was filled with sweet, delicious mashed bean paste. They do sell these at the Asian markets in town, but getting them fresh from the steamer is no comparison.
Among the large menu of entrees are familiar offerings like beef with broccoli, Mo-shu pork, General Tsao’s chicken, etc. But there are plenty of other interesting dishes to choose from like prawns with honey walnuts, smoked pork with chili peppers, pan fried whole flounder, and bamboo shoots with shrimp roe (shrimp eggs) sauce. There are plenty of vegetarian dishes, including some that aren’t just vegetables like the Mock Duck, the Vegetarian Pork Chop, and Vegetarian Sausage. The entrees range from $10-$20, with appetizers starting as low as $2 on up to $9. They also feature some order-in-advance items that sound incredible, like the Chinese Honey Ham, Eight Jewel Stuffed Duck, and Whole Eel – those will set you back $32-$36, but they look like it would be worth the money (if you could manage to look at and then eat a whole eel, yikes).
For lunch, Ala Shanghai has a great deal – for $6 you can choose from 30 different dishes and get soup and rice as well. We tried the orange chicken and the smoked pork with chili peppers. The portions were very generous for only $6, but most importantly, they were delicious. The chicken was soft and tender, and the sauce was not overpoweringly sweet, as it usually is with this dish in many other restaurants. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with even the fattier pieces just falling apart on the tongue. The chili peppers were not too spicy, but drizzling a little of the chili sauce they provided on the side made it perfect. We were offered egg drop soup or hot and sour soup to accompany the meal, so we tried both. The egg drop had only a little bit of corn in it, but was full of corn flavor – it was very tasty. The hot and sour was nice, though not as hot or as sour as it could have been.
Needless to say, the MHK will be heading back to Ala Shanghai to try many more of their creations. Good food, good prices, and friendly service – seems like they hit the trifecta for a quality dining experience.
The MHK gives Ala Shanghai 4 out of 5 stars!