ALBANY — When the weather outside leaves you chilled to the bone, few things are as tempting as a bowl of hot soup. With this in mind, I was drawn to Taiwan Noodle on a recent blustery evening, where I found warm comfort, delicious food and a great deal, too (not to mention getting the feeling back in my fingers and the tip of my nose).
My dining companion and I were seated in their small, unpretentious dining room and given menus and mugs of steaming, jasmine-laced tea, which we used to warm up our hands as well as our stomachs as we perused our options.
The menu is a fairly small one, with sections for appetizers and for dim sum offerings, noodle soups (of course), dishes served over rice or lo mein and entrees served in a steamer basket, cooked together with rice. We hadn’t thought that we were that hungry, but we couldn’t resist trying out a few dim sum offerings, so we decided to start with an order of shrimp dumplings (also known as har gao) and one of shu mai.
WHERE: 218 Central Ave., Albany, 436-1328, taiwannoodle.net
HOURS: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
OTHER INFO: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover accepted; handicapped accessible; parking lot adjacent to building
The shrimp dumplings arrived first, and they looked promising, their rice-noodle exteriors translucent, thin and nicely cooked, properly sticky and chewy in texture and piping hot. The insides were even better: The shrimp was delicious, the crisp bite of the flesh giving way to a burst of fresh, succulent flavor. I’ve eaten quite a few shrimp dumplings from a variety of places, and these are by far the best in the Capital Region.
Shortly after (though not soon enough that we hadn’t already devoured the four shrimp dumplings) came the shu mai, which were also quite good. A lot of places overdo the garnish, a little dab of crab roe on top, which can make them taste unpleasantly fishy. Here, the garnish was left off (and not missed at all), and the filling was mixed with Chinese mushrooms, which provided a good flavor contrast with the meaty filling.
It didn’t take long for us to polish off the shu mai as well, and right about then, our entrees came. I ordered the stewed beef chuck noodle soup, which arrived in a bowl big enough to be used as a serving bowl for a family dinner.
The noodles were the star of this dish, fresh-tasting with a nice bit of chew to them, and there was no shortage of them in the bowl. They were adorned with some pieces of cooked bok choi around the sides of the bowl, and in the center was a pile of dark-brown beef chunks, which were intensely beefy in flavor and incredibly tender. All of this was nestled in a pungent beef broth that was perfectly seasoned, neither salty nor bland.
My dining companion ordered the steamed chicken and Chinese sausage (also known as lap cheong) in a bamboo basket, which came steamed with rice underneath, the bottom and sides of the steamer basket covered in lotus leaves.
Everything was cooked well, and as he ate, my companion, who is Chinese-American, reminisced about his grandparents’ cooking and noted that what he was eating reminded him of their food, very authentic — certainly a lot closer to real Chinese food than what is served in most take-out joints around here. (General Tso’s chicken might be tasty, he noted, but it’s not real Chinese food.)
He was very much pleased with his meal, and he shared some of his lap cheong with me — if you’ve never had it, I highly recommend it, as it has an interesting sweet-salty flavor that’s more complex than most Western sausage types. It’s a good thing that he ordered his meal with extra sausage (a $1 additional charge), because I couldn’t resist sneaking a few more bites once he’d given me a piece.
Wrapping it up
We finished our meal feeling warm, happy and very full, and I ended up having to have half of my soup wrapped up for the next day. And then the check came, and our smiles grew even wider: with two dim sum dishes, two very filling entrees and the tip, we paid only $29.45 for this thoroughly satisfying dinner.