LATHAM — Now is a lucky time for me, according to the fortune cookie from Panda Express in Latham.
The chain restaurant, which offers online ordering and a drive-through window, has moved into the region. Should small, family-owned Chinese restaurants be worried? I don’t think so.
Panda Express makes ordering easy. I clicked on Start My Order and chose a date and time. You could click onto A La Carte for the full menu, but I used I Build My Order instead.
WHERE: 545 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, 783-0802
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, drive-thru open a half-hour later
HOW MUCH: $18.74
MORE INFO: Children’s menu. Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Wheelchair accessible. Drive-thru window. No delivery.
Panda Express operates more like a shopping-mall restaurant than your neighborhood takeaway. Instead of pints and quarts, you order half or full portions and they are served on a plate. No white cartons.
I chose Plate ($7.70): two entrees and a side. There’s also Bigger Plate ($9.20), Bowl ($6.70) and Family Feast ($33), each various combinations and sizes.
I picked Chow Mein for my side, then Broccoli Beef and Crispy Shrimp for my entrees. Husband Eric built a plate with Fried Rice, Sweet Fire Chicken Breast and Kung Pao Chicken. From Appetizers I added Veggie Spring Rolls (2 for $1.95). At Checkout I saw an easy-to-read receipt for $18.74. I gave them my Visa and got an email message confirming my order.
We arrived in Latham three minutes after order time. It was ready, a worker told me as I stood under the “Express Take-Out” sign, but I had to wait.
While Eric watched news on one of the large-screen televisions, I looked around. It’s one large room with plate glass windows on two sides with some booths and a few tables and chairs, not much seating. It looked clean and smelled like sesame oil, but was not inviting, with few customers at dinner time.
At a long counter with stainless steel trays of hot food behind glass, a server packs your food. Behind, someone was cooking in a sizzling wok. Both counter workers were helping a party of three.
“What’s the name?” a worker finally asked. I told her and added a box of fortune cookies to my order for $1.67 with tax, which did not agree with the marked price.
The food smelled delicious, and at home I zapped it in the microwave. Their Plates are sectioned cardboard boxes that were packed full and looked delicious. The spring rolls came in a small bag along with two packets of soy sauce and four fortune cookies.
The Veggie Spring Rolls were still crunchy. The wrappers were thicker and than I’d seen but the shredded vegetables in the filling were pretty tasty. We both liked them.
“The corn and peas in the fried rice taste fresh,” said Eric, and added, “But there’s not really much flavor.” Adding soy sauce helped greatly. The breaded and fried Sweet Fire Chicken Breast pieces were coated with a fiery, sweet sauce that made even the pineapple chunks and sweet red pepper hot.
The Kung Pao chicken was colorful, with carrot, yellow pepper, green squash, peanuts and chicken pieces in a dark sauce. Other than being almost too hot, he enjoyed it.
The Chow Mien noodles in my meal had Chinese cabbage and other vegetables including celery that were cut into unappealing, uneven-sized pieces. The stiff buckwheat noodles didn’t have a lot of flavor until I added soy sauce. The beef was remarkably tender and tasty, and the accompanying broccoli was bright green — fine for smaller pieces but the larger ones were very hard. I would have liked more sauce.
Crispy Shrimp is three good-sized pieces of breaded fried shrimp. They were still crispy, and despite having too much batter, tasted good. I didn’t like the flat shape but I liked the little tails.
Eric enjoyed his meal and was satisfied, although I was less than impressed. He liked the online ordering but I don’t mind using the telephone and our neighborhood takeaway joint delivers. They don’t have anything to worry about, at least with me.