(originally posted in April, 2012)
In the mood to try someplace new, we mentally scrolled through our to-eat-at list and decided on the Plum Blossom restaurant on Route 7 in Brunswick/Troy. The Times Union page with reader reviews can be found here: link. Can’t find a website for the restaurant.
Knowing it was possible that it could be busy, and being hungry, we planned to get there before 6:00 on a Saturday. Our luck sort of held in that regard, there wasn’t anybody waiting for a table. The bad news was that just about every table was full and, given the time, recently filled. I saw almost no one with food. It was looking like a long wait. Happily, we thought, we did get a table that it turns out was free after only a few minutes wait. That was the end of our happiness.
Let me get this out of the way up front: Our meal, for two people, at a typically busy time when a restaurant would be expecting to be busy, with no fancy orders, took forever. From the time we walked in the door until we left was a full hour and a half. For generic chinese food. That you cook in a wok in about 3 minutes. Those reviews at the Times Union site about the poor service? Dead on. Yes, I agree with the reviews that rave over the beautiful interior and all the wood carving, etc. OK, so it was sort of unfinished around our booth, but whatever, ignore the exposed conduit. The ceiling, especially, was gorgeous. This is a pretty plum blossom to look at. But we were there to eat the food some people were raving over.
After being seated we waited a good 10 minutes before seeing an extremely harried server – a middle-aged-ish gentleman who already looked at his wits’ end by 6:10. We were presented with fried noodles with duck sauce and hot mustard for dipping and a bowl of pickled cabbage (and a few other things – I saw a carrot and a piece of green pepper). By then we had plenty of time to peruse the dingy, stained menus and knew what we were going to order. I like to order stuff I know on the first trip to a restaurant, particularly when it’s a place I may return to. If I hit up a new pub I’ll have a burger. If they can’t do a burger and fries right, what are my odds with something more difficult? Exactly. So we kept it simple.
Our order consisted of wonton soup, steamed pork dumplings, chicken with snow peas, and general tso’s chicken. We know what those should taste like. Prepared by reading reviews, we expected that the wontons would be largely meat-free and the general tso’s would be a standout. We asked for water and a diet soda.
Getting quite hungry, we stupidly picked at the fried noodles, but I was hesitant to try the pickles (new to me) without a drink standing by. We still had no drinks. We’re easily 20 minutes into our visit here. 5-10 minutes passed and my soda arrived sans water. He remembered that he was supposed to be bringing water (at least at that point). It eventually showed up. The piece of pickled pepper that I picked was tasty, crisp and vinegar-y. The cabbage tasted like…vinegar. It’s cabbage, what do you expect?
So, at some point (sorry, I didn’t wear a watch), our appetizers arrived. Odd wonton soup in a dark broth. Beef-based? Soy sauce? I dunno, I didn’t try it. The wontons, as promised, held little meat. Overall a thumbs down. The steamed chive and pork dumplings were freshly steamed, swimming on a wet plate. I thought they were quite good. I could taste the individual components, the dough wasn’t too overwhelming. The dipping sauce wasn’t bad tasting, but it was ice cold. Why on earth would I want to dunk warm dumplings into an ice bath? In all honesty it ruined the dish. When I ate a warm dumpling without it, it was pretty good. When I dunked the dumplings they really picked up a nice flavor from the sauce, but the fact that it sucked all the heat out of them, well, it just ruined it for me.
Eventually our meals arrived. The rice, let me start by saying, was great. Yes, nice sticky white rice. They managed to nail that. Way to go!
The chicken in the chicken and snow peas was overcooked. In a feat never before experienced, a chinese restaurant overcooked and dried out the chicken in a sauced dish. My wife said the snow peas were yummy, though. They did, however, oddly still have the stems on, which needed tedious removal.
The general tso’s was so-so (I can’t believe I just wrote that…at least I didn’t write ‘tso-tso’…well now I did). The chicken itself was nicely prepared and cooked. The coating was much lighter than what you find at strip mall chinese takeout. It was truly a thin, crispy coating, not a fried batter shell as thick as the chicken itself. That sauce was pretty tasty with a mild burn that built slowly on the back of the tongue, but it was really sweet, even for a general tso’s. The sauce with the rice was really good. I would point out that there wasn’t that much sauce, which made me sad since it was the star of the dish. OK, now for the bad. The thin, crispy coating on the chicken was actually too thin and brittle – upon picking up a piece, moving it around the plate, or cutting it, it immediately shattered and fell off. I was left with the choice with each bite if I wanted some chicken and rice or coating and rice. Admittedly, they were both good. I guess the broccoli was steamed, but it was about as steamed as putting the florets on the vanity while you took a shower – mostly raw. I noticed only after delving into leftovers at home that there were slices of jalapeno in the sauce as opposed to the more common chili pepper. Very odd.
By 6:20 or so the waiting area was packed and stayed that way past 7:00. Better you than me, folks.
We never saw our server again until 10 minutes after we put our forks down. That is 100% unacceptable and we’re really pretty easygoing given half a chance. Overall, the entire service aspect was 95% unacceptable. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining how good the food would have to be to make me put up with that kind of service. Along with our beleaguered server we saw a couple of asian women and I guess the owner. Everything these people did was practically at a dead run when it wasn’t actually at a dead run.
Let me pose a little question for restaurant owners: If your serving staff is operating at a dead run but is STILL unable to keep up with service, unable to check in with tables, unable to bring a check in a timely fashion – are you properly staffed? You’re down the street from colleges, hire a couple of college students that manage to operate chain joints pretty efficiently. What a mess. They’re charging above-average prices, yet can’t hire enough staff? Ever considered operating slightly efficiently and turning all of your limited seating over another time or two (or three?) per night?
So, if it’s not obvious, we’re not going back. The food was going to have to be pretty good to make the drive worthwhile to begin with and it wasn’t even close. But our 90 minute meal, plus drive time, and a $40+ check after tip really was just too much. It’s a nice place visually. Some of the food is OK, flavors generally were decent but spoiled by inept preparation. But the service is just damned awful. Beyond awful. The only thing going for it (that 5%) was that the order came out correctly – a blessing since we never would have had a chance to get it corrected.
Instead try: Well, haven’t really found a stand-out sit-down chinese restaurant in the area, but Emperor’s on Wolf Road was pretty good. I’m open to suggestions. (update: on personal experience: Rain in Albany, Chopstick Bistro in Schenectady. From what I’ve heard: a la Shanghai near the Latham circle)