Saturday, May 18, 2024

At Home Taste, delicious reminders Chinese invented noodles

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Of all the Chinese restaurants that I’ve explored in town, Home Taste is the only one that will not make you fried rice.

That’s a feature, not a bug, as the programmers say.

Home Taste opened in 2015 to cater to the tastes of Chinese nationals, most drawn here by the University at Buffalo. The same restaurateurs who founded Peking Quick One in Tonawanda opened Home Taste. They sold it when their daughter graduated from the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy. Then they all went home to China.

Leaving behind a restaurant whose menu is chockablock with the kinds of Chinese dishes that Chinese people prefer. Fried rice, an American Chinese concoction, isn’t one of them.

Meng Chen and Tina Yang, owners of Home Taste, stand for a portrait.

In fact, taking any rice for granted at Home Taste would be a mistake. You need to order it separately with most dishes. That’s partly a reflection of the restaurant’s focus, Northern Chinese cuisine. Generally speaking, rice is the main staple starch in more temperate southern regions. In the colder north, potatoes and wheat dominate.

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That’s why one of Home Taste’s greatest strengths is fresh pasta. From hand-pulled noodles made fresh daily for noodle soups to dumplings in a dozen varieties, Home Taste’s dough work raises eyebrows.

Housemade dumplings at Home Taste

Steamed pork, shrimp and leek dumplings at Home Taste.

Start with a plate of dumplings, steamed or fried, a dozen to an order. Flavors include pork with Napa cabbage ($8-$8.50), pork with celery ($8-$8.50), vegetable ($8-$8.50), chicken with leek ($9.50-$10), fish with leek ($10.50) and pork-leek-shrimp ($10.99).

Steamed pork, shrimp and leek dumpling at Home Taste

A steamed pork, shrimp and leek dumpling, halved to display its filling.

All have their fans, and all come in fingertip-dimpled wrappers with a springy bite. Other restaurants might charge a premium for a fresh pasta special, considering the labor involved, but not Home Taste.

Steamed buns, poofy white fist-sized orbs filled with pork ($9/4), vegetables ($9/4), red bean paste ($7.50/4) or peanuts and brown sugar ($2.75 each), are the Wonder Bread sandwiches of China. The bread is more for structure and bulk than flavor.

Home Taste Qishan minced pork soup with hand-pulled noodles

The Qishan minced pork noodle soup, featuring hand-pulled noodles, at Home Taste.

Or try a rare-in-Buffalo treat, hand-pulled noodles that are made by whipping elastic dough through a series of taffy-pulling-like moves until strands are the caliber of chubby spaghetti. Find them in the Qishan minced pork noodle soup ($11.50), a bowl of faintly spicy broth brightened with a dash of vinegar, crowned with wokked pork crumbles, wood-ear mushrooms, and bok choy greens.

Vibrant dining space open again at Home Taste

The dining area at Home Taste.

In fact, Home Taste is an excellent spot to go beyond sweet-and-sour and eggdrop soups to discover tremendous values in jumbo bowls of soothing, savory adventure.

Seaweed soup with pork bone broth ($9) delivers tender braised pork and crunchy kelp. White radish with pork bone broth soup ($9) offers tender long-simmered daikon, and more pork.

White radish soup at Home Taste

White radish with pork bone broth soup at Home Taste.

Libby March

Under stir-fries, spicy chicken with dried red peppers ($14) made a real impression by showing up as golden-brown chicken morsels mixed with an equal amount of dried crimson chile peppers. Cooks fry chicken nuggets, then give them a second ride in a fiery wok amid a welter of aromatics. Scallions and black pepper you’re probably used to but look for the tingle on the tongue from Sichuan peppercorn.  

Salt and pepper codfish ($17.50) marks another triumph of the frying arts. Wisps of fish arrive crispy in a thin coat that is somehow dry instead of greasy. Sour mustard with fish ($17.50) comes as a casserole, with tender whitefish filets amid pickled mustard greens and stems in a mild, gingery broth.

Mala fish at Home Taste

The mala fish at Home Taste.

When’s the last time you enjoyed salad at a Chinese place? Consider the cold dishes section.

Northeast-style seedless cucumber ($9.50) is marinated with garlic and cilantro. Gently marinated fresh celery is tossed with rehydrated tofu skin ($7.50) redolent of toasted sesame oil. Shredded potatoes with garlic and chile ($6.50) presents slightly poached but still crunchy spud strands enlivened with vinegar and chile. Sautéed assorted gluten ($9.50), a mixture of tender wheat protein bites, peanuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms, is an engaging composition of texture and flavor. It’s also vegan, like the other three.

Cold dishes at Home Taste

Cold dish options at Home Taste plated together, from left, mixed gluten, scallion chicken and celery with dried tofu.

More cold dishes worth considering include a Chinese egg salad, with tofu, cucumber and 1,000-year egg ($9.50), which is a hard-boiled egg cured so that its white turns clear, and its yolk black as coal. Tofu cubes soak up chile vinaigrette, cucumber keeps it crunchy, and it’s converted many eaters who first declined, on the grounds of scary egg.

Scallion chicken ($10.50) is poached skin-on, bone-in chicken chopped and plated on chile oil and soy sauce, simple and satisfying. So is the omelet ($11), minced pork, tofu, scallions and shiitake mushrooms in a matrix of lightly browned egg.

At the fried rice shops, spare ribs usually means dry, lacquered pork on a bone. At Home Taste, spare ribs with Peking sauce ($15.50) are saucy porksicles whose tender meat releases clean with each bite.

If you don’t have time for a full expedition, send a scout. Get a dozen dumplings from Home Taste. See if you can tell why interest in their dough is rising.

Home Taste tucked away in Kenmore

Home Taste in Kenmore.

3106 Delaware Ave.,, 716-322-0088

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Closed Monday.

Prices: cold appetizers $6.50-$16.50, dumplings $8-$11, soups $9-$12.50, dishes $10.25-$22

Atmosphere: light chatter

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free: steamed vegetables, celery and cucumber appetizers

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