Hong Kong Style
2450 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
When trying to impress your friends, there are a few tricks you may employ. For one, you can complain about how difficult it is to reach your architect lately, ever since she started working on the Prince's Monaco project. For another, you could take them to Yummy, the new Chinese restaurant off the corner of Nicollet and 25th Street, glance briefly at the two lengthy menus you will be presented--one laminated, one loose-leaf--and set them down on the table firmly. Then--like the commanding captain of global culture that you are!--you will ignore them, and deftly summon the best delicacies the kitchen has to offer.
The first thing you will eat will be a soup. Crab meat with fish maw ($12.95) or West Lake beef soup ($9.95) are great choices; both showcase the silky, gelatinous, satin texture the Chinese prize so highly. The West Lake is mellow comfort food with subtle long-cooked beef and sweet egg given a springtime lilt by scallions and cilantro; the crab and fish maw an iodine-tinged harmony of ocean tastes.
Next, look to the fish tanks! Blue tanks of fresh fish, crabs, eels, and lobsters line one wall near the kitchen. Seek out the liveliest looking fish, like the lumpy-faced rockfish, or a big spotted bass. Ask to have your fish "steamed." In this case, steamed doesn't mean bland, it means that the fish will be cooked in a pressure-steam cooker with a bit of oil and green onions, then will be served on a platter with more green onions and sprigs of fresh cilantro, surrounded by a sweet and light soy and rice-wine sauce. The fish will have the effervescent texture of custard, and will be as light and trembling in the mouth as a cloud.
Get a lobster Hong Kong style, and the ruby fellow will be hacked, fried up in a cornstarch batter until it's as yellow as an egg yolk, and dry-fried with salt and slices of fresh chili and garlic until it gives off a fragrance that reminds me of the way castanets sound, all hot and snapping. Pry the tender lobster from its shell and you'll discover one of those tastes that will haunt you forevermore: The tender sweet of the lobster, the hot trace of the chili, the crisp of the edge of fried batter. (During my recent visits a whole rockfish cost $15.95; lobsters were $14.95. Prices vary, but if you happen to be ordering the king crab, at $27.95 a pound for seven or eight pounds, call me and I'll come meet you.)
Along with your lovely seafood, you will want hot pots and vegetables. The hot pots are volcanically hot earthenware bowls filled with sizzling, bubbling things that stay hot throughout your meal. The version featuring eggplant with garlic sauce ($9.95) is fantastic: silky lengths of eggplant that taste like they've been injected with honey, so sweet and rich do they taste, their cloak of savory sauce hiding bits of roasted-tasting garlic. The braised tofu hot pot ($9.95) is so rich, silky, and complex that even proud carnivores will be chasing the last slips of it around the bowl. Vegetable-wise, the pea shoots are not to be missed: bright green, sweet, sing-song little springtime wonders. I think they're best in the simple white garlic sauce ($11.95), in which a background of garlic highlights the lilting qualities of the shoots with its mild sharpness. (Yes, I do think something can be mildly sharp, in the same sense that, say, a brie cheese is: sharp enough to let you know it's there and being sharp, but not sharp enough to be aggressive about it. If you disagree, please fashion your rejoinder out of macaroni pieces, glue it to the nearest radiator, and mail the whole thing to me, because that's something I'd really like to see sometime.)
If you really want to be fancy, you can get two vegetables, like, say, the watercress in garlic sauce ($7.95), in which stalks of the mildly bitter little plant are given a bit of brace with garlic, and then the pea shoots with dried scallops, in which a sauce of pulled scallop strands puts a bit of salt and sea to the sweet shoots.
And that's it! Your friends will be floored. Your renown as a globe-trotter, a sophisticate, and master of urban life will grow and grow. No one will ever question you again, and sometimes people you barely know will hand you fat envelopes of negotiable securities and ask if you wouldn't please do something with them.
But this is only only only if you firmly set those menus down. Because if you pick those menus up, I really am not responsible for what happens. Because if you pick those menus up, you will find more than 200 items, and you will at best become fatigued and disoriented, and at worst your whole mind will come grinding to a halt as you attempt to cross-reference and make sense of it all. That's right, there are more than 200 dishes, and many, many, many more coming, because sometime soon Yummy will start serving dim sum.
Me, I only came to understand the heights this kitchen is capable of after floundering around for quite a while in bad choices and cul-de-sacs. Do not, for instance, get the Malaysian chow fun or the beef chow fun with soy sauce or, as far as I can tell, any of the noodle dishes, because they are pallid and uninspired. Skip the crab with pea tips ($13.95) because that is where elderly crabs go to retire. Ignore the fried crispy squab ($10.95) because that is one dried-out bird. I didn't like the very plain dumplings, the mushy Yummy summer rolls, or the too-small, too-floppy salt-and-pepper shrimp ($6.95.)
But even though I hit only about a 50-50 ratio of really excellent and really unthrilling in my visits to Yummy, and even though the service can really be of the most clueless teenage kind, I insist that you get into Yummy as soon as possible and try the great things. Which are, to recap: the steamed fish, the Hong Kong-style lobster, the hot pots, and the pea shoots.
Why am I being so bossy? I assure you, it's not because I've fallen in love with the Flintstonesesque faux stone walls in this bright, fluorescent-lit room, or because of the amazing selection of bubble-teas the place has (try the lychee nectar), or because they're open till midnight during the week, and till 1:00 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Or because they have very authentic Hong Kong street food, such as the big bowls of noodle soup that you can have topped with your choice of Hong Kong barbecue, like slices of crispy roast pork or barbecued duck.
Oh no. The reason is simply this: Yummy is the most authentic Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis right now, and we need to support it. Minneapolis has not had a great track record with our authentic Chinese restaurants. Remember Chan's Seafood Palace? That was the last restaurant in Yummy's space, and I feel like I made a real mistake with that place, since I spent a year waiting for it to work out its consistency and service problems, and then, suddenly, poof! It was gone. Vanished.
That day I resolved: Never again. Because if we are really going to be able to impress our friends, if we are going to be able to go to the holiday party and strut around in front of Des Moines, Madison, Tulsa, and Winnipeg, flashing our Rolexes and chortling about our architects, we need Yummy to succeed as much as it needs us.
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