Let it r… Nope. Not gonna say it. 🙂
I let my wife take me out for a mildly celebratory dinner last night and we chose Rain Modern Chinese on Lark in Albany. Part of me wanted to wait for a review until we go again and I could get some pictures, but, well, I don’t want to wait. There aren’t a ton of reviews (apart from always-to-be-taken-with-grain-of-salt sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor – Chopsticks Optional has a rather brief one, also covering dim sum) out there despite being open for like a year, so I thought I’d chip in mine. The Times Union has one from January, but that mostly focused on their dim sum. We’re not cool enough for that. I just wanted a nicer-than-average good meal on a weekday night.
As it was a Wednesday night there were other customers, but it wasn’t crazy. The restaurant looks, frankly, gorgeous. There are a few pictures on their website to give you a feel. I struggled a bit but finally came up with, “It feels a little upscale, but isn’t at all pretentious.” Service was quick, knowledgeable, ultra professional, and super polite. Food was exactly as expected and delicious. It was a little pricey, but just a little for the quality. There. Review done.
Ok, ok, a few more details. My wife had actually been here before and was very positive about it, but this was my first visit.
Upon being seated you receive a pot of very hot, mild tea. In a month (or less) you’re going to welcome wrapping your hands around that little cup when you come in from the cold. You may not have far to walk, though, as Rain does have dedicated parking, a luxury given their location. There is an entrance just before the building on Lark as well as one off the side street, Hudson.
First, a quick note about the menu. The menu has enough options for many tastes, but isn’t crazy long, losing you in indecision. I was a bit surprised but oddly pleased to see that, in addition to the “modern Chinese” cuisine that dominates the first part of the menu, there is a last page that is basically all the familiar “American Chinese” options available at takeout counters. Sure, they’re prettied up a bit, but General Tso’s is General Tso’s. I find it amusing that the website calls these Americanized dishes Traditional.
Based on my wife’s earlier experience, she ordered the Edamame Dumplings in Broth. I jumped at the chance to try Bao, something people that go to better Chinese restaurants often talk about but not something usually available at that takeout counter. Happily, you can see both of these choices on the Small Plates & Soup page on the website menu linked above. However, the picture does no justice to the Dumplings. In truth, they are an almost ethereal transluscent-looking wrapper floating in their bowl of broth. The dumplings are filled with mashed edamame and my wife loves them. I had the Hoisin Glazed Pork Belly Bao, which looked just like the web photo, only better (note that the photo is incorrectly labeled ‘Chicken Bao’ and is whited out on the printed menus). These two plump, soft buns were served in their giant steamer basket. A decent, but not overwhelming, slice of pork belly (one was meatier than the other) coated with a typical, sweet/salty hoisin glaze and some thin sticks of crunchy vegetables wrapped in a beautifully soft, squishy, steamed bun. I liked these quite a bit and would get them again. I’ll admit that I wanted a little more porky goodness flavor from the pork belly than I got.
Our other orders were chicken with mixed vegetables from the menu and an item from the specials sheet. Being a sucker for short ribs, I got the Sizzling Short Ribs in a Black Pepper Sauce. I didn’t expect much of the chicken that my wife ordered, but the sauce on the perfectly steamed broccoli crown I tried was simply delicious. Not a plain brown sauce, this actually had some life in it. I can’t describe it more, I didn’t have enough of it. Just expect something better than the plain brown gravy you get with takeout, someone put some effort into it. The broccoli, and other vegetables I was told, were done perfectly. Not hard, not soft, enough give to chew without thinking they fell off the crudite platter, just past the ‘snap’ phase of fresh veggies. Steamed perfectly. For a simple dish, this was lovely.
I was pretty happy with my entree. While my socks were not knocked off, these blew away the short ribs I had at Zen. Actually, everything far exceeded Zen. But back to the food. Like Zen’s, they were sliced through the bone so each slice had a ring of bone and some had a bit more bone than that. The black pepper sauce was a nice way to prepare the meat. Thick, heavy, jam packed with black pepper, it brought a lot of flavor to the meat and especially the rice (you are given a choice of white or brown rice, we both got brown and it was fine, nothing out of the ordinary, not really sticky). The dish also had a lot of long, thick slices of sauteed onion. They were delicious with the sauce and rice and really reminded me of that rich, sweet onion taste you get when your onion ring breading fails and you slurp up an entire ring of onion. I’m often not a big fan of onion, but I really appreciated the way these worked with the peppery sauce. Note that the sauce, correctly described by the server, wasn’t spicy, but very peppery as in ‘black peppery’. You know that nice warm, fuzzy feeling you sometimes get with a nice pepper-heavy sauce? Exactly. The plate I was eating off of was liberally sprinkled with black pepper specks from the sauce when I was done.
Oh, yeah. The sizzling part. I don’t know how necessary this was, but just before being served the dish is put into a blazing hot cast iron serving dish like you would get fajitas in and it sizzled the same way as it came to the table. Fancy, eh?
Of course I do have a complaint. As I spooned some of this lovely dish over some rice on my dish I picked up my fork and hesitated. How on earth am I supposed to eat these small discs of meat with a bone taking up a third of them (they were generally about 2″x3″ each)? If I’d tried to use the provided chopsticks I think it would have been even worse as I’m not sure how you could hold the bone tight enough with the sticks to bite through the meat. As it was, I was able to use the side of my fork to separate meat from the bone. It wasn’t overly amazing, this cut of meat, but it was tasty enough and the preparation all worked together really well. The ribs did have a nice flavor, if subtle, and mostly subsumed by the sauce’s kick. I took a lot of it home and plan to be rude when eating the leftovers, I’m just going to pick them up and gnaw the meat off the bones. But I wasn’t about to do that in Rain. I guess I could have asked for a knife, but it was fine when I found I could cut it with my fork with a bit of effort.
We took a lot home and had no room for dessert. The above with one soft drink was about $50 before tip. I’m looking forward to going back.