First impressions: It's hard to say what catches the eye first: Generations of Asian families gathered around big round tables enjoying a festive dinner or the plastic sheets used as disposable tablecloths. Both point to the same conclusion: The food really is the thing at Silver Seafood. You have to forget the bright lights, the somewhat barren decor and the occasional order served up in a Pyrex dish.At your service: While the waitresses can be friendly if rushed, one of the employees answering the telephone was rude when asked for basic details of the restaurant's operation. Needless to say, communication may pose a challenge here.
On the plate: You'll get two menus when you sit down. One features "real" Chinese food with seafood and various innards in a starring role. Some of these dishes are over the Cheap Eats' $13 entree limit, but watching a crab or lobster plucked from a tank in the dining room, only to re-emerge minutes later all hot and aromatic with ginger and scallion, makes a splurge very tempting. The other menu is the more familiar fare non-Asians tend to order, like General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork and beef chow mein.
Second helpings: The heady perfume of hot oil wafting from a passing dish of deep-fried salt-crusted whole shrimp is enough to prompt an order for our table. The dozen large shrimp are lusciously sweet and juicy, nestled inside their crunchy shells. Don't mind the mess. Tug off the carapace and go to town. Sesame chicken is classic, a mound of candied, crunchy nuggets encased in a darkly sweet sauce and dusted with sesame seeds. A ring of steamed broccoli florets surrounds the dish, offering a needed contrast in color and flavor. Asparagus-like shoots of Chinese broccoli offer a contrasting snap and slight bitterness to slightly chewy tiles of beef flavored with soy. Spicy tofu spiked with ground pork isn't as fiery as one might expect but there's still an appealing tingle to this very homey, comforting dish. The tofu cubes are so soft and creamy that lifting them with chopsticks is difficult; hold on to your fork.
Take a pass: Chicken with sweet corn soup ($5.95 for a "medium" serving; enough for four) is the usual bland, mucilaginous bowl that even the most timid eater would enjoy. I wanted something to throw into the sou, anything, from chile sauce to a sprinkling of scallion rings. Dried scallops, a delicacy, get lost in a dish of pea shoots overlaid with neat slices of mushrooms. Pot sticker dumplings are stuffed with a bright pink seafood filling; good flavor and delicate texture but I pine for the lustier pork variety.
Thirst quenchers: Tea, beer, wine, fruit smoothies.
Price range: Appetizers, $3-$4.95; soups, $2-$3.50 for individual bowls, $9.95-$18.95 for family-sizes; most entrees, $6.95-$12.95, expect to pay slightly more for some shrimp dishes and market price for lobster and crab; hot pots, $9.95-$12.95.
Silver Seafood Restaurant (3 forks)
4829 N. Broadway Ave.
Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Noise: Conversation friendly/bustling, depends on how busy the restaurant is
Other: Take-out, delivery charge $2, free parking.
Live music: Skip across the street to the venerable Green Mill Jazz Club (4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552) where there's plenty of music every night of the week served up in a comfortable, atmospheric lounge. Thursdays are particularly fun thanks to Alan Gresik's Swing Shift Orchestra. Hepcats twirl their ladies around the tiny dance floor to the music of this 16-piece swing band. Check out the schedule at the club's Web site, www.greenmilljazz.com
Cook it yourself: If good Chinese food gets you in the mood to cook up some of your own, just walk up the block to the bustling Broadway Supermarket (4879 N. Broadway; 773-334-3838), also known as Thaong Xa My A. Everything you could possibly need, from soy sauce to whole fish, large woks to tiny teacups, is here.
Ratings key: 4 forks, don't miss it; 3 forks, one of the best; 2 forks, very good; 1 fork, good
Reviews are based on anonymous visits by Tribune staff members; meals are paid for by the Tribune.----------