Restaurant Review: Yummy Café
Turn left at the smiling cat
By: Bill Kohlhaase
Published online: Friday, August 24, 2012
Appeared in: Pasateimpo
2 ½ chiles
1616 St. Michael’s Drive 505-466-1681
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays; 4-9:30 p.m. Saturdays; 4-9 p.m. Sundays
Noise level: gallery quiet, Vegetarian options, Handicapped-accessible
In short order:
The art-covered walls at Yummy Café distinguish
it from other local Chinese restaurants. Its menu
does not. What’s served — Hunan and Szechuan
entrees, meats in kung pao and garlic sauces, noodle
dishes, and fried rice — are prepared carefully but
without flair or invention. Request the cook take
the spiciness up a notch; otherwise you may be
disappointed by the lack of heat. Lunch specials
are the best deals. Recommended: shrimp with
mayonnaise, broccoli and tofu in garlic sauce,
paper-wrapped chicken, and egg drop corn soup.
*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
There’s a beckoning, mechanical cat no more than a
foot tall — it’s called Maneki Neko — that waves you
into Yummy Café from its perch on a stand just past the
entrance. (Maneki Neko is a Japanese invention but is
popular among the Chinese.) Familiar to Pokémon fans,
the smiling gold kitty with its swinging metronome arm
welcomes patrons into an eclectic dining room.
The avocado-colored block wall behind Maneki Neko
sports colorful Southwestern art, as does the opposite
wall, where a yellow backdrop with swirling bronze orbs,
something like a van Gogh sky, is crowded with more
bright landscapes. Two large paintings, one depicting
the Great Wall, the other showing a mother carrying a
child in front of a pagoda, are showcased against a glass
partition that separates a private dining room from the
main one. There’s a display of ink-and-brush “zodiac
animals” on a low divider. If it weren’t for the booths
and tables, the Tsingtao promotional paper lanterns
hung high overhead, and that plump, perpetually
welcoming feline, you might think you were in some
kind of art gallery.
Art isn’t foreign to Santa Fe dining establishments.
But it’s a bit different to see so much of it in a Chinese
restaurant. Yummy’s visual appeal — even the plates
brought from the kitchen are artfully arranged —
distinguishes it from other local Chinese cafés. Its name
might suggest a yum-cha-style teahouse serving dim
sum, but that’s not what it is. Yummy serves the usual
array of Americanized Chinese favorites like those
found at other Chinese spots in town. At Yummy,
noodle dishes, Hunan and Szechuan entrees, and stir-fry
dishes are all cleanly prepared, mildly flavored (unless
you ask them to up the heat), and disappointing only
in their occasional blandness.
When trying new Chinese restaurants, I look for
signature dishes, items that other restaurants don’t
serve, and hope for the best. Yummy has one that seems
unlikely on the page — shrimp with mayonnaise — but
is a winner at the table. Crisp shrimp are coated with a
tangy mayo sauce that gives them a slightly oily glisten.
The sauce goes surprisingly well with the pineapple
the shrimp rest on — it makes the sweet-and-sour
fruit come alive. Gold coin beef is a sort of Chinese
quesadilla, shredded beef in a gentle brown sauce served
over green-onion pancakes. We didn’t ask for it to be
served spicy, and despite the Szechuan description and
the hot and spicy symbol, it wasn’t. It wasn’t a bad dish,
but it’s not a winner. The royal seafood pot — scallops,
shrimp, calamari, and vegetables in a thick white-wine
sauce — was equally nondescript (it’s also available with
a spicy curry sauce).
Most everything else we ordered was nicely prepared
but also undistinguished. Thick chow fun noodles were
chewy but unimpressively sauced. Fried rice Singapore style wasn’t greasy and held just enough meat bits
and vegetables to make it attractive. The beef skewers
dipped in plum sauce were fine, the crabmeat cheese
Rangoon heavy on cream cheese but light on crab flavor.
Paper-wrapped chicken, ground and nicely spiced,
put the rest of the Bo Bo platter selection to shame.
Hot-and-sour soup was neither hot nor sour enough for
our taste. Orange chicken was well done, the chicken
just right, the sauce bright but without heat (again, we
didn’t request that it be spicy).
A lunch special of kung pao chicken was short on pow
despite the red chile in the thin sauce. But the vegetables
were crisp and fresh, and the presentation — on a lacquered compartmentalized tray with a ramekin of white
rice decorated with black sesame seeds, a won ton, and
an egg roll — was beautifully conscientious.
Our servers never asked how hot we’d like our spicy
items, and we wished afterward that they had. Otherwise,
the service is prompt and courteous. Once when we
ordered a tofu dish, our server let us know, just in case
we were vegetarians, that the accompanying won ton
held a bit of meat; unnecessary in our case, but considerate nonetheless.
That meal was the best we had at Yummy, the broth
of the egg-drop corn soup rich and flavorful, the broccoli
not overcooked, the tofu perfectly fried, and the garlic
sauce nicely hot, just the way we’d asked for it to be. The
experience put us in such good spirits that when we were
leaving, we waved back at the beckoning kitty.
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