By G. Michael Dobbs
If you think that all Chinese food is created equal then you haven’t been to Tao’s Asian Cuisine.
The new restaurant is in the location of the former Panda South at 31 Harkness Ave, in East Longmeadow, although customers of the former establishment will have a bit of a shock when entering the newly renovated eatery.
The space has been completely and tastefully redesigned and there is now a sushi area as well as a beautiful new bar.
Owned by cousins Angie Tao and Mike Chang, Tao’s serves a wide variety of Chinese, Japanese and Thai food. Chang, who has been raised in the restaurant business, said their goal has been to use high quality and fresh ingredients in creating better quality dishes.
The restaurant opened in July and Chang and Tao’s approach seems to have worked. On a Tuesday night the dining room was busy and the bar was almost full with people choosing to eat there.
It’s little wonder why the eatery has become a success. Chang was behind the bar and he is definitely an old school restaurateur. He knows his regulars and engages them as they walk in. If someone wants an alteration to a dish, he is happy to oblige.
Of course, it never hurts a place to have superb food and Tao’s sets the bar for other Asian restaurants in the region. The menu is daunting with its many dishes and the only problem any customer might have is simply narrowing down his or her choices.
My wife and I chose gyoza, a Japanese appetizer to start. In the past I had these pan-fried dumplings filled with ground pork, but this version was filled with a seafood mixture that was subtle and delicious.
Then came over two examples of the sushi chef’s art. Chang explained that many of the sushi dishes are cooked, instead of featuring the raw fish most associated with that type of food. This move allows diners who are put off by the idea of raw fish to try something new and my wife and I were very impressed with “Rock ‘N’ Roll,” which featured shrimp tempura, cucumber and crabmeat in a soybean wrap, as well as the “House of the Rising Sun” in which a California Roll was the basis for a delicious elaboration.
The sushi portions were substantial and we had to force ourselves to stop, as we had to leave room for our entrées. It was no easy task.
After consideration deliberation, we chose the Seafood Pad Thai and the General Tso’s Chicken. Chang suggested I try the chicken dish, as it’s a standard for Chinese restaurants and a good point of comparison. He was right, as it was easy to see the differences in their approach to the dish.
General Tso’s Chicken traditionally features chucks of deep fried chicken in a sweet and spicy Hunan sauce. At too many places I’ve found the sauce is too heavy, obscuring any taste of the chicken. Tao’s version was both light and flavorful and among the very best versions I’ve ever eaten.
The Pad Thai featured large shrimp and scallops and wide noodles had big flavor and was delicious.
Both portions were generous and provided lunch the next day.
For dessert, a fired banana in tempura topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream made for a great ending to a wonderful evening of dining.
Tao’s is open seven days a week and serves lunch special Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 525-1820 or log onto www.taosasiancuisine.com.
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