Restaurant Review: Yin Yang Chinese Restaurant
By: Bill Kohlhaase
Published online: Friday, June 22, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
The notion of comfort food
Yin Yang Chinese Restaurant
2 Chiles chiles
418 Cerrillos Road 505-
11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily; lunch buffet 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Noise level: pleasant, Vegetarian options, Handicapped-accessible
In short order: Yin Yang Chinese Restaurant
Hunan and Peking influences, but its
comprehensive menu includes an array
of Chinese dishes served in America for
decades. The cooking is competent if not
cutting edge; there is no Asian fusion
here. True to the restaurant’s name, plates
sometimes contrast meats and sauces.
Spicier preparations are uniformly best.
Unless you’re going for quantity, skip the
buffet at lunch and order off the menu.
Recommended: onion pancakes, chop suey,
crispy orange scallops, beef and shrimp
Szechuan style, and spicy crispy whole fish.
*Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles, including half chiles.
This reflects the reviewer's experience with regard
to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value
— traditional, home-style
dishes reminiscent of our mothers’ meals — shouldn’t be
limited to meatloaf, mac ’n’ cheese, and apple pie. I find a
lot of solace-inducing qualities at classic Chinese restaurants, where the food is familiar, satisfying, and flavored
with hints of nostalgia. For me, it started in utero. Family
history says that Mom refused to leave Ming Toy Café
in Omaha without finishing her chop suey even as I was
making it clear I was ready to enter this world. Later, Mom
dined at Ming Toy with me on her hip. I learned to love
chow mein, fried rice, and egg drop soup not long after I
learned to walk.
Maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable at Yin Yang
Chinese Restaurant. Set at the Cerrillos Road end of the
Design Center, the place is a decorator’s jumble of Chinese
art, ivy-trailed trellis, paper lanterns, and plastic potted
plants. Service is prompt, if perfunctory, and the bill is
written in Chinese characters. There’s plenty that’s familiar
— nearly 100 items are listed on the menu — and while
what comes from the kitchen is seldom cutting edge, it’s
usually competently prepared and decently presented.
The menu claims Hunan and Peking influences, and you’ll
certainly find the fish and spiciness of the former as well
as crispy duck and other fried dishes that help define the
latter. And there’s plenty of stir-fry and even a hot pot
or two that recall the Cantonese dishes that dominated
Chinese-American cooking in decades past. Now that
Asian fusion has become the status quo, it’s nice to get back
to the Chinese food our mothers fed us. Can you say moo
goo gai pan?
The food that comes from the kitchen sometimes has
yin-yang inspiration. A few entrees pair different meats in
opposing sauces on either side of the plate, establishing
contrasts. But balance is everything, and the cooking at
Yin Yang is more about compatibility than opposition.
In the Peking style, presentation is central. Both meats
in the Szechuan-style beef and shrimp dish are served
spicy, the grilled beef in dark kung pao sauce, the shrimp
in a red chile sauce, the two meats separated by a radish
deftly carved to resemble a carnation. Shrimp Duet, with
plenty of red pepper in its sauce, was balanced by unspiced
vegetables. The spicier a dish, the better I liked it. Triple
Harvest, a blend of shrimp, chicken, and beef with sautéed
vegetables in a nondescript gravy, paled next to that radiant
Szechuan beef and shrimp. Happy Family didn’t make us
happy at all, the different sauces on the scallops, shrimp,
and chicken clashing as much as your in-laws. A whole
deep-fried sea bass had crusty skin and white flesh falling away when deboned into a just-right sauce of garlic
warmth, soy saltiness, and sweet notes. The citrus-sauced
preparations such as orange beef and crispy orange scallops
weren’t too sweet, something that diners who favor the
syrupy variety of orange or pineapple on anything may not
appreciate. The least spicy dish, chop suey, brought back
fond memories, the slices of white chicken and chopped
vegetables in a translucent, broth-flavored sauce, the kind
of gentle, savory dish that has a comfort all its own.
Chinese appetizers can be read like a fortune cookie to
reveal the quality of what will follow. One can make a meal
of them here. The pu-pu tray held a number of delectables
fanned around a tiny, flaming charcoal pot for finishing
off the cho-cho beef or warming up chicken wings — not
that they needed it. The pork ribs, nicely glazed, were a
bit tough, but the wings were juicy and spicy, the wontons
deftly stuffed, and the shrimp, well, they didn’t need time
on the fire pot. Onion pancakes — flatbreads peppered
with green onions — were a delight after a dip in the
accompanying sweet soy. The egg rolls were fine if not
distinguished. The potstickers hid savory ground pork and
hints of onion and carrot.
Yin Yang has an extensive, affordable lunch buffet that
occasionally offers items not found on the menu, like
sesame chicken and crisp green beans in brown sauce. The
plates I’ve put together were inconsistent, and it seemed
the same sauces, one brown and one red, were served to
accompany almost everything. Dishes were best when first
brought out. Roughly chopped raw cabbage in a sweet
vinegar dressing, a kind of slaw served at certain Southern
barbecues, was the highlight. The fried rice was gone and
never refilled, and the sweet and sour soup was neither
sweet nor sour. Order lunch from the menu. My last time
there, I watched diners come back from the buffet with
loaded plates as I savored those orange scallops still crisp
from their frying, sitting among the mushrooms and pea
pods and water chestnuts in a blush-colored sauce as warm
as a mother’s love.
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