I am Offended by the TU’s Lack of Editing of Their Taiwan Noodle Review

So, I read the Cheryl Clark’s review of Taiwan Noodle in the Times Union. I’m glad it is getting some positive exposure, because Taiwan Noodle is an awesome restaurant. Tasty foods at affordable prices, what’s not to love? I realize Cheryl was trying to come off positively, and I appreciate that, but I don’t appreciate the editing (or perhaps, lack thereof) of her review.  I am vaguely offended based on the subtleties of the article. On my end, I can see that people may read my blog and be offended at its gruffness and sharpness, so there’s that.

I think, perhaps, a literary criticism would be the best method of analysis/rationale for my taking offense, so here is a lengthy post:

I don’t know if the food at Taiwan Noodle is “authentic,” and I don’t care. [Why is the word “authentic” in parenthesis? In this instance, it comes off as a play on authenticity and underscores the merit of Taiwanese food in Albany. Why does the author care about being knowledgeable about authenticity (or lack of knowledge) and not acknowledging food that food tastes delicious because it has enjoyable flavors? This negativity sets an awkward tone for the article.] I do know if I worked in Albany, I’d eat there every day without fear of boredom or bankruptcy. The spare, bright noodle shop serves the kind of cartilaginous comfort food that is both homey and, in this market, exotic, as well as surprisingly inexpensive. [This is an accurate description of the space] I took one look at the menu, written in both Chinese characters and English, and wanted to say, “One of everything, please.” [For real, everything here looks good]

Even with three companions, we couldn’t pull that off, but we did our best. If our table had had a “Like” button, we would have been slapping it all night. [Hehe, Facebook reference, I enjoy that. Not being sarcastic.] We found the sesame and five-spice pig-ear strips ($3.25) uniquely porkalicious. They were braised to make the cartilage under the thick rubbery skin and sheets of meat palatable, then fried, chilled and sliced. The cartilage itself has more crunchy texture than flavor, but it absorbs the sesame, clove, cinnamon, ginger, star anise and fennel admirably to create an inviting and accessible snack. [Accurate description. The pig ears are very textural over flavorful, and I encourage the use of terms like ‘porkalicious’]

Little bowtie knots of seaweed ($2.95) sported chunks of spicy garlic. I thought the flavors were too strong at first, and then was surprised to realize we’d finished every nibble. [I can see that. The seaweed has just enough texture to be interesting while still having  enough texture to it. But this also doesn’t really describe what the author ate. ] Scallion pancakes ($2.25) were fabulously oily and crisp. A long double tube of “wheat collar” ($1.95) was as much fun as county-fair fried dough. Quartets of steamed tiny pork buns ($2.95) were perfectly sized and formed to spurt steaming gushes of hot broth. [The pan-fried dumplings have awesomely toothy skin and a bit of juice inside (but they are not soup dumplings in casey one might confuse them with XLB)]

Entree prices top out at $8 (the same at dinner and lunch), and we found the portions generous but not gluttonous. Taiwan Noodle’s focus, is of course, noodle soup, and the two portions we sampled were comforting, filling and nicely textured and perfumed. [This is way more of a coherent description than I could ever give this soup. ‘Perfumed’ is an excellent descriptor for their soup] Stewed beef chuck ($5.45) was silky and sweet, cooked enough to gentle the connective tissue but not so long as to make it tough [can you overcook beef chuck?]. The broth was soothing and light, with spring-green segments of baby bok choy. [All of their broths are veggie based. Vegetarian readers would appreciate knowing this.] I appreciated the little bits of fat left on the meat, which added comforting richness. We chose long vermicelli noodles with this dish, which were satisfying but not nearly as brilliant as the classic house-made wheat noodles we selected for the pig feet soup. How do they make them that slippery? [This is a very political way of saying that the vermicelli noodles suck and you should always opt for their resto-made noodles. Because their store-made noodles have the perfect amount of chew, tenderness, and flavor which pale in comparison to their other nood options].

For me, the true fun was ordering steamed rice with ribs and preserved vegetables ($7.95) and having it arrive, sticky [YAY, fun and joy from ribs and veggies] and barnyardy, in a bamboo steamer basket lined with lotus leaves. [Oh. Cheryl. Barnyardy is not a word, and not a word I would consider complimentary. Say ‘pungent’. Say ‘earthy’.  Add another modifier like ‘delightfully’ or ‘awesome’. ‘Barnyardy’, to me, conjures up images of a dairy farm filled with cows, their leavings, and  general unpleasant scents. (Although my buddy Daniel disagrees and considers ‘ barnyardy’ to be a positive term.) In Cheryl and the TU’s defense, mayhap I have too much of a bias with the term ‘barnyardy’ since my mom’s side of the family comes from farming stock.]  It contained just about every flavor, smell and texture that makes me love dim sum. [W00t, dim sum is awesome] Don’t forgo the addition of a funky, pungent Chinese sausage for $1. The simple lap cheong-style dried pork sausages are smoky and sweet with distinct flavors of star anise, rice wine, soy and maybe rose water. [How is it lop cheong-style? It was lap cheong. That’s like saying the croissant you had in Paris was very Paris-y. Sausage is sausage, and there are tons of takes on lop cheong even in Chinese food. Don’t be afraid to assert what the food is.]  It was served with a rich, dark cup of broth and a cup of soy-based sauce on the side. [Did you ask them what it was? ‘Cause they’ll totally tell you what it was. I personally really like the taste of their side sauce for the steamed dishes. It’s dark soy sauce as a base (which is a darker-looking but milder-tasting soy sauce (less salt, more umami) and a bit of sweetness and tartness, which varies between restos coz restos develop their own ratio].

With such adventures available, I was bummed when one of my party ordered something as prosaic as “fried chicken cutlet,” sauce on the side, with white rice. [ Okay, for real. You might expect a Chinese restaurant to be all gongs and exoticism if you’re not Chinese. But if you ARE Chinese? Chinese people aren’t always adventurous. Especially when you have kids. Fried chicken is the same in any culture. Sometimes yo’ kids just won’t eat stuff with a lot of flavor. And c’mon – to call fried chicken ‘prosaic’ is just an demeaning to the deliciousness that is fried chicken.] When it arrived and was neither breaded nor remanufactured, I was grateful. It was plump, moist, cut-with-a-fork tender [yeah, there are a lot of chemicals that make that cut-with-a-fork tender, let’s not romanticize that], flavorful and served with slightly steamed baby bok choy. The dish can also be served with onion sauce or black pepper sauce (one of my favorite Chinese staples).

It seems unsporting to complain about the quality of the paper products in a place where you can get a hearty dinner for $5.45, but the metal box of thin white rectangles was totally insufficient for the sticky gelatin joys of the pork rib and trotter bones. [Fair enough, the ribs and pig feet are pretty messy if you pick them up to eat by hand, which is really the only way to get each delectable bit off of the bone]. By the time we sucked the bliss from the osseus matter, our fingers looked like we’d been gluing cotton ball snowmen. [Hahaha, YES, I totally get what you mean by that. When you really dig it, your manicure is not gonna be pristine]. Next time I’ll bring wet wipes. [This is actually a really good idea if you have kids, or just take a few trips to the rest room for some hand washing]

During the 90 minutes we lingered comfortably over our meal, I only saw one person (waiting for takeout) who was not Chinese, and we were the only ones in the room not speaking Mandarin. [They also speak Cantonese, FYI. I’m sure I frustrate them by switching between English and my godawful Cantonese and Mandarin, but they manage to make sense of me]. It made me wonder where all the clever Anglos were. [“Clever”? Really? Because only the smart white people would be here, right? Or do you mean the Anglos are ‘clever’ because they realize what’s “authentic” even though the piece started off with the author stating how she didn’t know what qualified as authentic Taiwanese food? My “Anglo” side is even offended at this descriptor, because it implies that some Anglos are more discerning and cosmopolitan than others. Can’t we leave race out of it and just accept tasty food as-is?  This is sloppy editing. I realize Cheryl was trying to be complimentary, but “clever Anglo” is such a hot descriptor. I find this as offensive as Clark’s commentary that “Pasta pulling must be a prerequisite to womanhood in Italy, and the septuagenarian sisters have spent long years polishing this simple, joyful art.” in her review of the Appian Way  restaurant in Schenectady.] At this quality and price, there should be a line around the block for this place. [Yup, word, I’m always surprised that this place isn’t jammed to the walls whenever I go in, too] It’s an established location that was home to Saso’s [Oh Saso’s, how I miss you. You set the benchmark for quality sushi in the Albany area! This is a fantastic nod to a former occupant] for many years, and for a shorter time, Kitsu.

A bouncy young server, all smiles and puppy feet [yes, this is an accurate description of the service at Taiwan Noodle. The servers mean so well and are just so… sweet, if a bit unpolished and familial], was busy with several large tables and possibly not yet proficient with English. [English is def a second language at Taiwan Noodle ,and some people may be intimidated with a slight language barrier, so it’s good to include this bit of information] We felt lucky to have been seated near the register by a laconic older man whom I assume is the owner.[Okay, so this is just my musing, but why didn’t the reviewer just ask if the older man was the owner? When Celina Ottoway reviewed for the Times Union she always followed up with the restaurants she reviewed, and I always found this characteristic of her writing to be very charming and humanizing. She’d review anonymously in-resto, but follow up to let them know what to expect as a review and find out more about the restaurant for the piece she wrote] I loved his no-nonsense, efficient style, which would have fit right in at some of my favorite Chinatown haunts in San Francisco and Manhattan. [I appreciate this in they way that the author is trying to correlate Albany as having a legit Chinese resto in its midst] His terse pronouncements were a little hard to follow [Yeah, I can see this. I was raised with family who spoke English as a second language, and some folks just aren’t comfy with it], but he had no trouble understanding us, getting an order with 13 items correct in one try [Dude, this comes off as condescending. “OMG, he’s so well-spoken! He got our order right in one try!”. I find this especially condescending as the author has owned a restaurant and as a former restaurant-owner she should know that menus are set up for buzz words, so no matter what language is spoken your waiter is going to know what the table has ordered just based on what was said by how a menu was set up.]  The brusque, gesticulative [Yeah, this is very accurate for how Chinese people talk. We are not a subtle people] way he advised me to use a spoon to move my rice and ribs from the slatted bamboo steamer basket to a plate before pouring the sauce on it (duh) made me idly wonder how many times in the 11 months the place has been open he’s had to mop soy off the table. [Okay, so maybe you got some ‘white-guy’ service with that. I get the “duh” part in that respect. I totally get that, but get this, my people are only doing it out of love to give you a taste of the authenticity you claim to lack knowledge of. You can not accept this and be just as brusque to them as they are to you, and they will be fine with it and remember who you are and that you don’t want that hand-holding. Some people do want that reassurance] .

Taiwan Noodle does not serve alcoholic beverages, and offers sodas and juices in cans and bottles [Try the cranberry juice tea. It is freaking AWESOME! Tartness + tea = FLAVORTOWN]. The younger man refilled our mugs of dark tea so meticulously I was up until 4 a.m. on a caffeine buzz.

Dinner for four with six appetizer/dim sum plates, four entrees, two teas and two sodas came to $45.60 before tax and tip.

Cheryl, I would appreciate where you’re going with this review. I can see your direction, I just don’t like how it makes Taiwan Noodle seem like this “exotic” place on a pedestal.

TU: The tone of the piece generally seems to imply they want a positive review of Taiwan Noodle. If I were to edit this review, here’s how I would edit this:

Albany Jane’s Edit:

If I worked in Albany, I’d eat at Taiwan Noodle every day without fear of boredom or bankruptcy. The spare, bright noodle shop serves the kind of cartilaginous comfort food that is both homey and, in this market, exotic, as well as surprisingly inexpensive. I took one look at the menu, written in both Chinese characters and English, and wanted to say, “One of everything, please.”

Even with three companions, we couldn’t pull that off, but we did our best. If our table had had a “Like” button, we would have been slapping it all night. We found the sesame and five-spice pig-ear strips ($3.25) uniquely porkalicious. They were braised to make the cartilage under the thick rubbery skin and sheets of meat palatable, then fried, chilled and sliced. The cartilage itself has more crunchy texture than flavor, but it absorbs the sesame, clove, cinnamon, ginger, star anise and fennel admirably to create an inviting and accessible snack.

Little bowtie knots of seaweed ($2.95) sported chunks of spicy garlic. I thought the flavors were too strong at first, and then was surprised to realize we’d finished every nibble. Scallion pancakes ($2.25) were fabulously oily and crisp. A long double tube of “wheat collar” ($1.95) was as much fun as county-fair fried dough. Quartets of steamed tiny pork buns ($2.95) were perfectly sized and formed to spurt steaming gushes of hot broth.

Entree prices top out at $8 (the same at dinner and lunch), and we found the portions generous but not gluttonous. Taiwan Noodle’s focus, is of course, noodle soup, and the two portions we sampled were comforting, filling and nicely textured and perfumed. Stewed beef chuck ($5.45) was silky and sweet, cooked enough to gentle the connective tissue to tenderness. The broth was soothing and light, with spring-green segments of baby bok choy. I appreciated the little bits of fat left on the meat, which added comforting richness. We chose long vermicelli noodles with this dish, which were satisfying but not nearly as brilliant as the classic house-made wheat noodles we selected for the pig feet soup. How do they make them that slippery?

For me, the true fun was ordering steamed rice with ribs and preserved vegetables ($7.95) and having it arrive, sticky and heady, in a bamboo steamer basket lined with lotus leaves. It contained just about every flavor, smell and texture that makes me love dim sum. Don’t forgo the addition of a delightfully pungent Chinese sausage for $1. The rich pork sausages (aka lop cheong) are smoky and sweet with distinct flavors of star anise, rice wine, soy and a balance between savory and sweet. It was served with a cup of  light-yet-full-bodied broth and a cup of soy-based sauce on the side.

I was bummed when one of my party ordered something as seemingly simple as “fried chicken cutlet,” with sauce on the side, with white rice. When it arrived as minimally processed, I was grateful. It was plump, moist, cut-with-a-fork tender, flavorful and served with slightly steamed baby bok choy. The dish can also be served with onion sauce or black pepper sauce (one of my favorite Chinese staples).

It seems unsporting to complain about the quality of the paper products in a place where you can get a hearty dinner for $5.45, but the metal box of thin white rectangles was totally insufficient for the sticky gelatin joys of the pork rib and trotter bones. By the time we sucked the bliss from the osseus matter, our fingers looked like we’d been gluing cotton ball snowmen. Next time I’ll bring wet wipes.

We lingered comfortably for 90 mines over our meal as the tables adjacent to us ordered in Chinese. At this quality and price, there should be a line around the block for this place. It’s an established location that was home to Saso’s for many years, and for a shorter time, Kitsu.

A bouncy young server, all smiles and puppy feet, was busy with several large tables and possibly not yet proficient with English. When  he took our order for 13 dishes, we were impressed with how efficiently he recited our order back to us. He was a little hard to follow, but he had no trouble understanding us. The way one of the staff members advised me to move the ribs and rice from the bamboo steamer onto my plate were fairly obvious, but well-meaning.

Taiwan Noodle does not serve alcoholic beverages, and offers sodas and juices in cans and bottles. The younger man refilled our mugs of dark tea so meticulously I was up until 4 a.m. on a caffeine buzz.

Dinner for four with six appetizer/dim sum plates, four entrees, two teas and two sodas came to $45.60 before tax and tip.

18 comments
  1. mr. dave said:

    Cheryl Clark sucks hard. There I said it. I can’t think of another person whose writing style annoys me more.

    • Writing style, whatevs. What bothers me is that someone who was an owner of a prominent restaurant and a known face to so many chefs and owners locally is reviewing restaurants.

  2. Mr. Sunshine said:

    Wow. Tres bitchy.

  3. Rochelle said:

    I agree with Mr. Dave – Cheryl Clark just plain sucks. I can’t stand her reviews, but instead of taking too much offense, I just rack it up to being one of those poor misguided people.

    You know it’s a good place. I know it’s a good place. And sadly they picked the wrong person to review this place so more people to discover just how awesome it is.

  4. “Clever Anglos” and “cartilaginous comfort food” are weird phrases that stood out for me in this review. And there is definitely an arrogance to her writing. The paragraph about the fried chicken, why express your disappointment in what someone orders? Publicly saying she is better than that person is the only reason I can come up with. I’d argue that Clark is the reviewer preparing to write something that can make or break a restaurant – she should make ALL the decisions about the food order.

  5. Third Auntie said:

    Ahh … what are we clever Asians to do with those clever Anglos? What an “inscrutable” review written by Clark. :)

    AJ, excellent re-write of the review. But I think I would have a bit harder than you in editing her writing. Some of her wording made me very uncomfortable. Glad to know that you felt the same way.

  6. Cihan said:

    I thought “clever Anglos” was the weirdest turn of phrase. Anglo is by no means a synonym for “white folk” in any context, as it references a particular kind of white folk. And either way, I go to Taiwan Noodle all the time, as a non-Asian non-Anglo.

    And “barnyardy” is not a word you should use for food you found appealing.

    I normally don’t mind Cheryl, but this review was really awkward.

  7. Ornamental said:

    “A bouncy young server, all smiles and puppy feet…”

    What a patronizing and creepy description (makes sense that it comes from a clever Anglo).

  8. pull my finger said:

    Frankly, I read this blog occasionally and I gotta ask a question. How did this Smalbanian who moves up and down the East Coast stuffing her face with obnoxious foods with abandon have the nerve to criticize ms Clark??? Mab\ybe because she drops Daniel B’s name a lot. Her use of the English language leads me to believe she needs to consult a thesaurus frequently.

      • Haha! Daniel B. is a notorious rabble rouser and malcontent.

      • Sadly what I am not however, is a “clever anglo.”

      • pull my finger said:

        Don’t take it the wrong way. Whomever Alb Jane is, she IMO gushes whenever you dine with her, as you give her instant cred with regards to her being a food critic.

      • I feel like I have to set the record straight. I have no idea who “pull my finger” is, but Albany Jane is the reigning queen of food bloggers in the region. She’s been at it longer than anyone else. And while we may often disagree on things like white chocolate and wine, there is no cred that I can bestow upon her that she hasn’t earned herself tenfold.

        As far as the gushing goes, maybe I’m just a fantastic dining partner. And for what it’s worth, she doesn’t actually write a post every time we eat together.

        I gush about Mr. Dave all the time, and I’ve never even shaken the man’s hand.

      • pull my finger said:

        She may very well be all that you say, but so is/was paula Dean and the abominable Rachel Ray.

  9. LB said:

    I’ve never felt that I was particularly “clever” for being the only white person in an ethnic restaurant or grocery. “Foodies of all ethnicities” or “food lovers” if you hate that awful word is more inclusive and more accurately describes who you’re likely to find there. I imagine her intended audience would know precisely what kind of person she means.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,791 other followers

%d bloggers like this: