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Tao's kung pao chicken, made with dark meat,

Tao's kung pao chicken, made with dark meat, is fiery and rife with peanuts, a memorable version of this familiar dish. (Aug. 31, 2012) Credit: Yana Paskova

Given Long Island's dwindling collection of old-school Chinese restaurants, there's comfort to be taken in the opening of Tao in the former Empire Szechuan Gourmet space. Despite a minor makeover, the place still holds onto its '80s look. And some of its old crew.

This being 2012, the menu has a few pan-Asian aspirations. But while you can hook up with a spicy tuna roll or a plate of pad Thai, General Tso and his battalion of classics clearly rule.

One night, pale green vegetable dumplings prove fresh and delicate. Cold noodles -- featuring fresh pasta in a sesame-peanut sauce -- are toothsome and forthright. While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a shrimp summer roll -- cooked shellfish and shredded cabbage enfolded in rice paper -- the dish needs a jolt from something. Fresh cilantro, perhaps.

The Taiwanese pork stew noodle soup is a glutinous brew holding overcooked noodles and fatty pieces of pork. But hot and sour soup hits all the right piquant-peppery notes.

So does the succulent black pepper shrimp, a Chinese-tasting dish ordered from the Thai section of the menu. Kung pao chicken, made with dark meat pieces of poultry, is fiery and rife with peanuts, a memorable version of this familiar dish.

The very definition of comfort is beef chow fun, tender sliced steak mixed with wide flat noodles. From the "revolution diet" section of the menu, the chicken with water chestnuts, broccoli and spicy orange flavor is light and vibrant, a surprise success. Eggplant with an assertive garlic sauce is very good, if a trifle too saucy.

For those who simply must have raw fish, know that the sushi here is fresh and respectable, exemplified by the "white Christmas" roll with spicy cubed white tuna and avocado topped with a slab of plain white tuna. A dragon roll -- eel, avocado and cucumber -- works, too.

Thankfully, there's no fried cheesecake dessert here. With your check come fortune cookies, and canned pineapple chunks stuck with toothpicks. Sweet nostalgia.

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