Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yunmen Emerald Conceptual Restaurant

For a few months I've been reading with interest the online reviews of Yunmen. The most common reaction seems to be that the restaurant is beautiful inside but the food is a little too out there. Diners express longing for some familiar cuisine or recommend going to a fly restaurant if you want to taste something really good.

The reviews did not prepare me for how uniquely the interior is decorated. The entrance and hallway to the dining room feel like an exaggerated Anna Sui display, with feathered ceilings and a pink and purple colour scheme. It's beautiful, though the too-efficient staff whisk you by so quickly you have little time to take it in. The indoor and outdoor dining areas are a bit more restrained. The natural  light inside is great.

There are three identical black-bound menus. They feature Sichuan cuisine (川菜), Hunan cuisine (湘菜) , Beijing cuisine (京菜), and molecular cuisine (分子菜). I felt a bit out of my depth so brought a Beijing native along, hoping to sample some of each type of food.

We got complimentary bowls of fruit to begin, and then white bowls full of creamy congee. The staff said the congee was made from Gonga Mountain snow water. Whatever its origin, the stuff hit the right comfort food notes for my friend.

The Sichuan dish was an Emei mountain specialty of shredded eels and lettuce in red oil. It was hot, salty, and numbing. The dish of Hunan style bacon arrived right beside it.  We had a good chance to taste the contrast between the ma la of the Sichuan dish and the straight-up heat of the Hunan dish. Then we remembered there were salmon and tofu dishes coming that we wouldn't be able to taste with our mouths on fire, so we set the spicy stuff aside to finish later.

Hunan bacon dish (湘西财神腊肉)

From the Beijing dishes menu, a plate of crispy eggplant (脆皮茄丁). Sweet like candy, with spicy little rounds of needle peppers as a surprise. Fantastic.


When the server set the sous vide salmon on the table, she announced that this was a molecular cuisine dish, something we would not be able to taste anywhere else in town. The texture of the fish reminded me of jelly or pudding, and it melted in our mouths. The sauce, on the other hand, was full of rough and chewy chunks of meat, making a clever textural reversal between protein and accompaniment.  All the parts of this dish tasted fine though they didn't really work any magic together.

Sous vide salmon (香辣坚果低温度三文鱼)

Tofu in mushroom sauce (菌菇私家豆腐). Fried piece of soft tofu in mushroom gravy with a crispy lotus root slice and chive blossom. I thought this dish was a little bland, but my friend liked it. 

At this point, a party of about six were seated at the table next to ours and began smoking. We asked to be moved to a different area, and the servers accommodated us after taking a few minutes to prepare one of the tables outside.

Fruit wood barbecued ribeye steak  (果木燃烧 肋眼皇).The steak was a decent piece of meat, nicely marbled and cooked medium rare. Whatever the fruit wood treatment involved gave it a similar taste to an ordinary pan sear. The portion was about the size of a man's thumb, and seemed to be plated to make it look as small as possible. 

The patio outside was really pleasant.

Both of the desserts I'd been looking forward to trying were unavailable. The only dessert that we could order was something called lv da gun (驴打滚). This translates roughly as 'donkey rolling around in the dust', and is made of sticky rice flour rolled around a nugget of peanut paste and tossed in soybean powder.  They tasted fine but again, whoever was decorating plates seemed to be dialing it in that day.

My friend told me the Qing dynasty origin of this sweet as we were enjoying it, which involved a cook trying to invent a dish to tempt troubled royalty.

This restaurant would be challenging to enjoy for those who lack Chinese language skills. There is a beautifully photographed picture menu with translations, but the food is so unusual and elaborately plated the pictures may not help much. The men's and women's washrooms are labeled in characters only.  I definitely would have felt lost if my Chinese friend hadn't been along.

Diners laying out five hundred or so per person should expect fantastic food as well as a very perfect and smooth experience. These expectations are not really met at Yunmen, which is better suited for those who don't care how much food costs, or whose goal is to spend more. Though the meal had quite a few underwhelming moments, what I tasted did make me want to go back and try some of the other dishes.

Name in Chinese and address:
人民南路 4 段 27 号

Veg Plate and Congee at Yetihua

Many places offer trays of precooked vegetables, tofu, or meats that you can choose to eat as a snack or as part of your meal. These dishes are pretty popular in the warmer weather, though they sit at ambient temperature for long periods and therefore don't score very high on the food safety index. It's best to eat this kind of food at busy restaurants, or places with open kitchens where you can observe decent hygiene habits.Yetihua has some of the freshest looking and tasting offerings, they are very reasonably priced, and they let you mix up to three vegetables per plate. Here are shredded zucchini, spicy potatoes, and some lettuce heart and wood ear mushroom with a side of green bean congee.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Luzhou Noodles

Luzhou's most famous product is its baijiu, but if you ask Luzhou natives about their favourite local food they often mention Luzhou style noodles. What is so special about Luzhou noodles? They are made with more lye than other wheat noodles which makes them softer.

This noodle shop on Computer Street is one place to get Luzhou noodles.

This is their specialty, spicy chicken noodles. 辣鸡面. Fourth tone on the 'la'. I mistakenly said la1ji1 mian, garbage noodles, but they figured it out.

Bowl of water spinach as a veg side.

Address in Chinese:

一环路 南二段 16号 78

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Holiday Special: Dim Sum at the Millenium

The Millenium is one of the high end hotels that have been popping up like mushrooms all over town, and is located in a residential area on Shenxianshu South Rd. Over the holiday their Chinese restaurant on the second floor had a dim sum special that I decided to check out.

Interior, with retro and metallic decor in the dining room. Very well done except for the carpet, which is a terrible idea in a humid and warm climate.

There were about fifty items on the check-off dim sum menu, which was on for 88 yuan per person. The menu had no greens, so I ordered a side of gai lan which they didn't charge me for:

Shrimp dumplings, the first ones on the menu but not the kind I usually order. Their shape and the filling showing through the translucent skin made them look like small sea creatures. Delicious, with big chunks of shrimp, water chestnuts, and other good stuff inside.

Baked barbecue pork buns, not much bigger than ping pong balls, nicely browned and filled with delectable pork and barbecue sauce. Some of the best I've ever eaten. The pork flavour really came through.

Turnip cake, not the least bit stodgy, filled with delicate shreds of turnip. Browned just shy of a char. I asked for sauce and got a spicy red sauce that tasted like it was made with some fermented ingredient like dou ban or shrimp sauce. Delicious.

For a very long time I avoided ordering anything with water chestnuts (马蹄) on a menu because I thought it would be made from a literal horse's hoof. I mean, you never know, right? This water chestnut cake was sweet and had crunchy chunks of water chestnut inside a lovely translucent filling. It had also been fried, which I didn't expect, and was crispy on the outside. Fantastic.

Tapioca in grapefruit cream dessert. Nice and light and refreshing, with the tapioca at a good texture.

Shrimp and chive filled rice rolls were gorgeous. My one problem with this dish was the shrimp were a bit flavourless. Their texture was perfect though.

This dim sum made me sorry I'd waited so long to try the place out. Whoever is cooking here definitely has some skill and some guts. I had walked in and looked around before, but had never been impressed with the service - the hosts seem to be on the phone constantly and the servers seem to be very adept at avoiding eye contact. However, on this visit after I got seated I was very well looked after.

Yipin Restaurant
 Millenium Hotel, 2nd Floor 
No.41, South Shenxianshu Road,
Chengdu 610041 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Buffet at Minshan Lhasa

The Minshan Lhasa on Gaoshengqiao Rd is a business hotel that has been opened for a year or two. They have a Western and Chinese buffet advertised for $68 per person. 

The room is Tibetan themed and full of large round tables, so if you come solo or in a smaller group you are very likely to share a table with other diners. They had a table of cold dishes, a table of bread and desserts, and a row of hot and stewed dishes with two soups, two congees, two kinds of rice, several meat dishes, a green vegetable or two, a mao cai station, a hot dog rack, some barely scared french fries and chicken on skewers. Everything was well labeled in Chinese and English.

There was a more than satisfying selection of Chinese pickled and marinated vegetables. One cold dish, made from dark shredded-looking dried tofu, really stood out for both its taste and appearance. 

They had the most local selection of dishes I had ever seen on a hotel buffet, with old standards such as twice cooked pork (回锅肉) and spicy chicken (辣子鸡). I was pretty happy to see they served kou kou cui, (trans: mouth mouth crisp?) which I understood to be rabbit stomach but here was pork intestine along with an excellent tofu in a spicy, oily red broth. The fragrant and spicy frog dish was very good. (Frog dishes, (美蛙) are best enjoyed during months when frogs are plentiful in the fields. You can get bullfrog year round, but they are not nearly as good.). There was a fantastic stewed duck and potato dish. Fruit juice and coffee from a Nescafe machine were included. 

Dessert table:

One dessert that I really loved was this warm soup with rice wine, tofu, and watermelon cubes.

The Western dishes were token and totally skippable. I probably won't rush back - it's easy to go out with friends and find dishes this good or better at half the price in regular neighbourhood restaurants. However, if someone new in town was going for a solo dinner and wanted to try a few different Chinese dishes without having to deal with a language barrier they might do worse.

Minshan Lhasa
The restaurant is just up Gaoshengqiao Rd from the hotel.