Syosset, (516) 931-3663
On the night I visited Tao, the new Asian restaurant in Syosset, Chinese-speaking diners dominated the dining room. It was a good sign. If they don’t know their own food, who does? They might well have been attracted to Tao (which replaced Empire Szechuan at this Jericho Turnpike location) by a menu that’s quite different than the typical suburban bill of fare. Add mostly modest prices and many monster portions and you have a keeper.
Despite its overall Asian designation, Tao is primarily a Chinese restaurant with a voluminous, diverse menu that includes a single page devoted to “Japanese Cuisine,” a small section of Thai selections and a Malaysian or Korean influenced dish here and there.
Ayih Eiang, Tao’s kitchen commander and part owner, is a veteran Chinese chef. He has cooked in restaurants from Connecticut to California, with stops in Texas and Florida, and was the opening chef at Empire Szechuan. Although his menu offers most of the Chinese golden oldies (spare ribs, egg roll, wonton soup, fried rice, lo mein, chow fun, Peking duck, etc.), it tilts a bit more toward Chinatown than, say, Commack or Cedarhurst.
Among the most interesting dishes are jumbo shrimp with mayonnaise sauce, fish with XO sauce, spicy Kimchi and Taiwanese three cup chicken, meat roll, sausage pork stew noodle soup and squid noodle soup.
There’s a pervasive authenticity here. Although the décor is nothing more than a gussied-up version of Empire Szechuan, the smooth, striking tables are from China, the Chinese crowd and waitstaff interact with enthusiasm and good humor, and, most of all, the food tastes like the real thing. That fish with XO sauce ($20), for instance, is a fried fillet of flounder coated with a slightly sweet sauce on a bed of vegetables that packs just enough spicy kick to make it interesting. The jumbo shrimp with mayonnaise sauce (two versions $19 and $25) held colossal-sized shrimp lightly covered with a mayo sauce that blends with and enhances the beautiful crustaceans. Two bargain-priced bowls of soup fed four hungry diners with plenty left over. Both the 3 Treasures over rice noodle soup ($8) with duck, pork and chicken, and the beef noodle soup, featured seductive flavorful broth and were thick with long tender noodles. The beef in the latter is about half meat and half fat, while the chicken in the former is boney. Both ingredients add zest to the broth but don’t make for easy eating. Moo shu beef ($13) is slightly sweet and accompanied by nondescript pancakes. There’s nothing wrong but nothing special about the house special fried rice ($9). Pad Thai ($11), replete with plenty of pork, was an above average version of this Thai staple.
A few Japanese dishes yielded mixed results. The warm, salty edamame ($5) and fresh California roll ($5) passed muster, but the octopus sushi ($6) was chewy. The salmon sushi ($5) was fresh and fine, but we realized later that we’d ordered egg custard sushi. No matter, despite any misunderstanding, most of what we ate was mighty good, as is Tao itself.
Photos by Stephen Lang