ALBANY Shining Rainbow, a popular Chinese and Japanese restaurant on Central Avenue, has one of the most extensive Asian menus I’ve seen — 34 dishes in the chicken section of the menu alone. It’s good and bad; nice to have such a wide selection but tough to make up your mind with so many possible choices.
They’re not just the Chinese-American standards you’d find after work on that menu stuck under your windshield wiper.
You can order General Tso’s Chicken at Shining Rainbow, but you can also order General Tso’s Squid and you can feast on chicken feet dim sum, pork intestine with preserved vegetables and black bean sauce and a lot of dishes that have the words “bitter” and “pungent” in their name.
Shining Rainbow Restaurant
WHERE: 209 Central Ave., Albany; 396-3881, www.shiningrainbow.com
WHEN: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards; handicapped accessible
Beverly and I were having a hastily arranged dinner with friends Erica and Ed and we were in a celebratory mood, as seemed to be many of the diners on this particular evening.
We ordered warm sake right away and then spent some time chatting as we perused the menu, repeatedly sending our server away when he popped up with his pencil poised.
Finally, out of time, we ordered several dishes to be shared.
Won-ton and hot and sour soups were our openers (at $2.50 per cup), along with a half-dozen steamed dumplings with a ginger dipping sauce.
One of the real delights of the evening was the crispy salt-and-pepper soft-shell crab ($9.95), which we divided in quarters and devoured eagerly. It was salty with just the right amount of outside crispiness and inside succulence.
The Eight Treasures with XO Sauce ($15.95) is a combination of diced shrimp, chicken, tofu and vegetables in a spicy sauce from southern China, and the Eight Treasures name is presumably a takeoff on Taoist meditative exercises.
We also ordered the Orange Shrimp entrée ($11.95), a platter of “Chinese Vegetables,” yu choy sum with garlic ($7.50), and Roast Pork Lo Mein ($7.95), a generous plate of noodles in a light sauce with slivers of green onion and julienned roast pork.
Our server, Justin, was particularly attentive, refilling our water glasses and tea pot several times and adding to the evening’s festive mood.
The food arrived hot and temptingly aromatic, one dish after the other, until you could barely see our table top.
There were no regrets as we cleaned our plates; the Eight Treasures and the Orange Shrimp received high marks.
Ed and Erica are regular patrons of Shining Rainbow and spoke effusively of the hot pot dishes — preserved meat in hot pot rice or Chinese sausage or salted duck, fish, egg or spare ribs, all available in hot pot rice (and all priced at $8.95).
We promised we’d all go back for a hot pot feast in winter.
There are other dishes that intrigued me at Shining Rainbow — like the Fat Choy Seafood with Fish Maw Soup and Seaweed Crabmeat with Fish Soup, entree-size dishes priced at $12.95 and $14.95, respectively.
There are 36 dishes in the beef section of the menu, some of which sound worth exploring, like the Sizzling Beef with Black Pepper Sauce ($9.95) or, among the 26 pork dishes, the Sweet and Pungent Spare Ribs ($8.95).
There are also more than 70 seafood dishes — everything from shrimp and scallops to lobster and squid to lesser known species like Banga Mary and Butter Fish. It’s among the seafood items you’ll find the priciest items — market priced lobster, Dungeness crabs and sea bass and the Pan-Fried Flavor Flounder ($29.95).
Shining Rainbow is open for lunch as well as dinner, offering lighter fare like avocado, cucumber, California, salmon and tuna rolls.
Dinner for two at Shining Rainbow, with tax and tip but not counting sake, came to $41.97, which we considered a bargain.
On the menu, it’s often called “Chinese Vegetables,” but it’s really yu choy sum, reminiscent of both spinach and bok choy. It’s delicately flavored, a kind of blank slate for such accompaniments as roasted garlic. Besides being delicious, it’s really good for you, a rich source of minerals, as you might expect from a dark green vegetable.