Yang Chow. Not my cup of green tea.
Okay, I will first state that while I do consider myself to have a somewhat educated and discerning palate - that I am a veritable neophyte in the Chinese cuisine arena. I have always enjoyed the occasional Chinese food night which conjures thoughts of either a delivered dinner where I eat with my chopsticks straight out of the takeout containers while watching the ABC Sunday night movie in my cozies OR dining out in a dimly lit restaurant with neat streams, bridges and fountains inside that serve dishes with words like happy, lucky, delight and family in the title (which I miss... where did those go??).
Since I've grown up (ahem) and no longer indulge in the ABC Sunday night movie and I haven't encountered any wonky, little spots with water features inside, I've found that Chinese food night has taken a major hit. Even now I very rarely order Chinese food, but do occasionally enjoy an evening at Mandarette. I love their scallion pancakes and bbq pork flat noodles. And once in a blue moon I'll have the weekend morning Dim-Sum times in Chinatown - but not near as often as I should. I think maybe the problem with the Chinese food deficit in my life could be that it is difficult to find a good glass of wine with my meal. Food for thought...
With that said I'll get on with my story. Last Friday night Dixon & I were to attend the Collecting Collections opening at MOCA. I figured since we were heading downtown - and rarely are in the area - we should try something new. I was thinking Chinatown. I did my research, weighed my options, and settled on Yang Chow. And so, with visions of their famed Slippery Shrimp dish that I had been hearing so much about swirling about in my mind, we headed downtown.
Yang Chow is right in the heart of Chinatown, on Broadway at Alpine. It has an unassuming facade with a sign that's hard to miss. Upon opening the door one is led into a bustling environment. There appear to be three separate dining rooms, all on the small side and intimate enough. The wall above our heads was plastered with 736351971 8x10s of various celebrities and politicians who have come through the place at some point (I guess it's good to know where the politicians spend their money). The decor is modest, understated and straightforward, slightly sterile - and a bit too bright for me with my pre-MOCA opening, Friday night make-up. I noticed that there were not a lot of locals in the place - more of a bridge and tunnel crowd.
Upon being seated we were greeted with a pot of tea - a blend of oolong, jasmine, and green. We promptly ordered a couple of Tsing Taos and checked out the menu. Dixon was feeling a little under the weather (and was a bit of a kill joy, I might add) so we didn't order a zillion things. For Dixon, we began with a soup - which actually turned out to be the star dish of the evening. The soup was Spicy Szechuan Wonton and it was fantastic. It was on the appetizer list (surprisingly not listed with the other soups) and was more than enough for two. The wontons were soft and yet chewy with a nice give and stuffed with pork. The broth was thin in consistency but incredibly robust and packed with szechuan spice and some sesame oil. We both enjoyed it immensely.
We also had an order of the steamed pork dumplings which were perfectly plump and tender, Dry Sautéed Vegetable Delights (asparagus and green beans with (tons of) chopped garlic and ground chicken)) and, finally, the famed Slippery Shrimp, a neon batch of slightly sweet, slightly spicy, slightly crispety crunchety butterflied shrimp.
Fun fact: The dish was introduced at the original Yang Chow, which opened in Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles in 1977. I hear the dish got it's name during it's first preparation. The corn starch coating made the partially cooked shrimp very slick causing them to slip off the plate.
The green bean and asparagus dish was quite good - not overcooked - with a snap to the beans. The shrimp was fine, but honestly I don't understand what everyone is jumping up and down about. Really it was a bit silly and too sweet an entree for my taste.
I will add that the staff was fast and friendly enough and the food came out at a clip. The portions were ginormous and the prices were great.
But really the experience caused something between confusion and disappointment for me. We make the trek to Chinatown. I read all about this being the definitive Chinese food spot. It has a dish with a STORY. But I couldn't find anything exceptional about the food. While I felt it was Westernized and a bit heavy and oily, it certainly wasn't the bad, cheap, greasy Chinese food we all have experienced at some point. But it wasn't SPECIAL. In fact it very much reminded me of the food in the restaurants from my youth with the toys in my Shirley Temple, and the fountains and streams and bridges. If they added those elements I'd make the effort to return as often as possible and probably try everything on the menu just for the fun, kitch factor. But until then I remain on a quest for the exceptional and sparkly Chinese food night.
819 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: (213) 625-0811