1310 Middle Country Rd., Selden
AMBIENCE: Clean, bright Chinese restaurant with lucky cats, orchids and red lantern décor offers a full bar, private dining and a vast menu of regional Chinese dishes.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Sunday; major credit cards, wheelchair-accessible, takeout and delivery within five mile radius, full bar.
Don’t let the word “fusion” in the name fool you. Tao’s Fusion in Selden is pan-Chinese. It’s a departure from ubiquitous pan-Asian spots that dot nearly every town across Long Island serving sushi rolls, Japanese, Thai and Chinese dishes.
Tao’s appeals to Chinese speakers — professors, graduates and students drawn to the area by Stony Brook University and its diverse community. It’s also an interesting place for anyone who likes to explore Chinese cuisine, with owner Tony Chen and his kitchen staff cooking some impressive dishes, such as two favorites that can feed a group: an Uzbek-style lamb feast ($42-$55 feeds four to six people) and the Peking duck ($68, feeds six to eight people).
Tao’s Fusion originally opened as Tao’s Delicacies six or seven years ago. Last year, Chen closed it for a few months to renovate, then reopened in December under the new name. The updated dining room offers pendant lighting, cushy seating and blonde wood accents that dress up the place compared to the exterior of the Middle Country Plaza strip mall that’s seen better days.
Even with changes, Tao’s is somewhat confusing if you don’t speak Chinese (or you don’t have a translator). Multiple menus — with snacks, skewers, and hot pots as well as appetizers, entrees and sides — can be overwhelming and sometimes pricey. Though servers are warm, there’s not a lot of guidance, and staff sometimes hesitates to make suggestions.
The cooking shows a high level of skill and nuance. For starters, order the pile of beef tendon shaved so thin it’s translucent. You may not think you’ll like it, but you will. It’s buzzy with a touch of numbing Sichuan peppercorns, dappled with chili oil and brightened with cilantro. A similar dish, with the addition of tripe, features cucumber shaved like noodles. Hunan-style pork belly, another starter, is sweet and savory, served with papery leeks in a marinade of bean paste, black bean, soy, sugar and a little hot pepper.
Named for the pole used by vendors as they hauled baskets through the streets, dan dan noodles do not disappoint. You’ll appreciate the dish framed by bok choy, dressed with chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, minced beef and crushed peanuts.
If it is cold or rainy, fish soup, a dish seen in the Sichuan province through the North, features pickled greens that will restore you with an exceptional broth, while chilies and pickled greens wake up the senses. Follow the soup with the Uzbek lamb dish from Central Asia, served in a shallow pan, a grilled leg blanketed by triangles of pancake. It’s very rustic and very good, whether you’re swiping that bread into gravy or using it as a utensil to pick up, then sandwich the tender meat.
Back to that Peking duck, a two-course commitment that requires diners to call ahead. It is among Chen’s favorite dishes since he’s from Beijing. The cook, Tai Wei Wang, presents it tableside, a fragrant, whole lacquered duck that he carves, then folds into pancakes layered with scallion and cucumber. The interplay of textures and flavors in the dish will win you over with the bird’s nearly candied skin and juicy meat, cool cucumber, scallions and sweet hoisin. After the pancakes, there’s a second course broth that will implore you to slow down, sip and savor its fragrant heat. As part of a visit to Tao’s, this order falls among the most familiar on a vast menu of regional Chinese dishes.
Yet this memorable meal and a bygone tableside ritual — because it is special — feels new.