Sometimes, one finds a treasure right in one’s own back yard.
So it was with Chopstick Bistro, formerly Ninja, an Asian Fusion restaurant on Broadway, just around the corner from Union Street. I was sad when it closed, but heartened to learn the space was one again opened under new management as a Chinese restaurant.
Although the setup of tables, chairs and counters was the same, gone were the artistic touches: the mural, paintings and many of the other decorations. Yet the scent of garlic and hot oil still prevailed in a most enticing way, and there was still something familiar about the establishment despite the change of owners.
We quickly realized that Sarra who greeted us was also our server, the manager and the operator of Chopsticks. She was able to multitask because at 6:30 on a Saturday evening, we were the only table she had to deal with. Chalk it up to having been open only three weeks and the bistro’s current lack of a liquor license.
We were hungry. The tea we ordered was chrysanthemum ($1.98) — an unusual and unexpected flavor for local Chinese establishments. It was delightful.
A listing of more than 40 appetizers, soups and salads made choosing difficult. Nevertheless, dinner-mate John was able to narrow it down to Fried (pork) Dumplings ($6.98 for 8) while I opted for Chicken in Lettuce Wraps ($6.98) after I learned that the soft-shell crabs ($7.98) would not be delivered until Monday.
John found the dumplings exceptionally tender and tasting more like real meat than fillers.
My lettuce wraps consisted of an ample mound of seasoned ground chicken piled atop crispy rice noodles and garnished with cilantro. My only (mild) complaint was that iceberg lettuce is not flexible enough to actually wrap around the flavorful ground chicken. So I improvised and made little lettuce canoes filled with chicken cargo. Still, Boston or Bibb lettuce make better wraps. John disagreed, deeming the iceberg leaves crunchy and a perfect wrapping size. We both agreed, however, that the size of the portion would have been sufficient for an entrée.
John and I made the mistake of not reading the last two pages of the menu before ordering. The Chef and House Specials, Sizzling Dishes and Hot Pot looked fine to us. I ordered the Grilled Beef Short Ribs (Korean style) for $15.98 while John deliberately requested the Orange Chicken ($10.98) in order to see if it in any way differed from the orange/tangerine chicken dishes he had been served in the past.
It did. The deep-fried breaded chicken had remained crispy despite being served in what seemed to be sweet sauce made from fresh oranges (we noted slivers of bright orange rind in the sauce), and remained crispy — even cold a day later.
A subtle touch
Ribs tend to be sliced lengthwise, but these were thinly cut in transverse pieces, exposing the intricate design of the inner canal of the bone — a quality only an old biology teacher would appreciate. The ribs were accompanied by crisp-tender peapods, asparagus and broccoli in slightly vinegary Korean sauce.
Both entrees come with a choice of white or brown rice. We chose the brown, which was served in a deep red covered bowl.
We nibbled on the crispy and flavorful ribs, pausing occasionally to wipe our hands on the wet-naps Sarra had thoughtfully brought out arranged neatly on a small dish.
I had initially been unable to decide between the ribs and the roast duck. Sarra suggested I order the ribs and a half order of the duck ($8.98), which I did — a reasonable accommodation which pleased everyone.
Sarra brought out two small complimentary bowls of delicious, steaming hot and sour soup. I’m not sure which aspect of the soup we enjoyed more — the mildish flavor or the fact that it was a gift.
“Who’s in the kitchen?” I asked Sarra between bites.
“My husband, Gonny,” she replied. “He’s been cooking for 20 years, so I said, why not?!” she commented with a grin.
Too full to inquire about dessert, I nevertheless noted that the last two pages of the menu included what appeared to be some exotic dishes written in Chinese: Shredded Duck Fries Leek Flower ($14.98), Steamed Weever ($19.98), Tofu Skin with Lamb Brisket ($15.98), Spiced Salt Squid ($13.98), Pork Lungs in Chili Sauce ($8.98), Jelly Fish in Oil ($9.98), House Special Fried Sweet Potato Flour ($11.98) and Pepper Preserved Egg ($8.98).
We are already planning to bring friends with us on our next visit to Chopstick Bistro.
Sarra gave us a small jar of tiny white dried chrysanthemum blossoms so we could make our own tea, warning us not to make it too strong or drink too much of it before bedtime because it would keep us awake. But according to articles I read, the tea contains no caffeine and is calming. In fact, chrysanthemums are said to be associated with wisdom and peace.
WHERE: 11-13 N. Broadway, Schenectady, 123067
WHEN: Mon. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tue.-Thur. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sat. 12-10:30 p.m., 12-9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $53.86 without tax and tip
TEL: (518) 280 7813; FAX: (518) 709 0438; WEBSITE: www.chopstickbistro.com
MORE INFO: Accessible, parking in front, city-owned lot on side, all major credit cards accepted, low (almost meditative) music in background, noise level permits conversation, dine in, carry out, free delivery if $15 or over.