Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yunnan Garden: for a walk on the spicy side

Beef on crispy rice cakes: it's all in the sizzle

My latest dilemma: Where to go for a good Chinese dinner. I know, this shouldn't be a difficult question when I live at the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley, within striking distance of Alhambra, Monterey Park and San Gabriel. But lately it seems like all the attention is lavished on dumpling, dim sum and noodle spots. Some of them are wonderful, but none seem right for a dinner with lots of different dishes in a sit-down restaurant that's not an expensive banquet.
All this is a prelude to a review of Yunnan Garden, a Szechwan-Hunan restaurant in San Gabriel that's worthy of some more investigation. You might end up going back to Chung King, since some of the dishes at Yunnan Garden aren't as carefully prepared, but somewhere on the lengthy menu there are sure to be some winners. With just two people, we could only try three dishes. Our favorite was Dandan noodles (above), a less-peanutty tasting version than some with a complex slurry of chopped pork, peppers and other savory bits at the bottom of the bowl. Ma-po tofu (below) was oversalted, but with an abundance of Szechwan peppercorns in the sauce, it made for a fine topping on rice. Beef on sizzling rice cakes was prosiac -- the fun of this dish is mostly auditory, when the server pours the sauce over the crispy rice cakes. But the crispy rice dishes are useful standbys in Szechwan restaurants if there's one person who can't do super-spicy, or if it seems prudent to insert a milder dish into the selection. The restaurant is clean, brightly lit (of course) and new-looking inside, and they were fine with us bringing beers. But you might have to convince the server if you want the really spicy stuff, as he looked quite worried when we contemplated ordering the water-boiled fish. I'm sure I'll be back to try the appealing-looking, large cold appetizer case, which we didn't have room for, and maybe some more exotic dishes -- the frog section of the menu is certainly intriguing.
Where do you go when you want something more than dumplings, but less than a banquet?

Yunnan Garden
545 W. Las Tunas Dr.
San Gabriel
(626) 308-1896


cjp said...

Quick note: Yunnan is actually a separate province of China that borders Sichuan to the South. I'm sure its cuisine has a huge Sichuan influence but there are bound to be differences.


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Anonymous said...

Water-boiled fish (or other meat) is super hot and spicy. All you can see is the meat covered with pepper oil, Sichuan pepercorns, and more peppered spices. Those who love spicy taste will love this dish.

Trembles said...

cjp - I lived in Yunnan twice and there are certainly differences. The Yunnan standard is Over the Bridge noodles; the dish isn't necessarily my favorite but is a good benchmark for "Yunnan-ness" if there is such a thing.

For a sit down dinner that isn't over the top I still like Yunggui Garden (Yunnan) or HongYei on San Gabriel.

carter said...

I really like China Islamic on Garvey near Del Mar and Chung King on south Garfield in MP for my spicier fixes out that way, with neither too far from you.
Went to both last week from Sherman Oaks.

Unknown said...

the mapo tofu looks so delish!

this is really one of the simplest dishes to make anywhere in the world so long as you can get hold of tofu and sauce package.

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.