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Yunnan Kitchen: Chinese Small Plates in LES

October 28, 2012

Mission Chinese in LES is one popular restaurant with unimaginable lines.  Yunnan Kitchen, just a few blocks southeast of Mission Chinese, has a crowd that rivals its newer neighbor.  The food at Yunnan Kitchen is inspired by the cuisine of Yunnan province which incidentally borders Sichuan.  The food of the region has hints of Sichuan spices but is much more subtle in flavor.  Yunnan Kitchen serves dishes of Yunnan in small plates in a relaxed open space making it great for groups and/or those who have a hard time making up their minds.

Yunnan is known for its tea orchards so it’s not surprising to see the tea smoked duck on the menu.  The duck is sliced thinly and served chill with a handful of peanuts and lightly pickled cucumbers.  A great starter platter to pair with one of many affordable bottles of wine that Yunnan Kitchen offers.

Items from the “shao kao” section of the menu are easy to share.  Skewers of smelt and lamb meatballs are dusted with a similar spice mix with cumin and sichuan peppercorn.  While the smelt comes across as simple and straight forward, the lamb meatballs are much more complex, juicy and perfectly charred.

The hot section of the menu is the largest of the four so much time must be spent here.  A plate of fried potato balls are really what they sound like.  Perfectly crispy yet light and airy, these little guys taste even better when dunk into a sauce of soy and vinegar.  Fried pork belly sounds exotic but they are at the most simplistic crispy bacon.  What makes these special is the little mount of ma la spices.  These give the bacon pieces a punch and will instantly numb your mouth.  While your mouth is already without much feel, why not dive into the ma la chicken?   Thick tender slices of chicken breast are tossed with a heavy hand of numbing spice and spring onions.  While those might look like tofu, they are actually fried buns, much like croutons but more evenly textured and crunchy.  For a much needed reprieve, the mild simple plate of woodear mushrooms with veiled lady and celery is a great choice.  While to many woodear mushrooms and veiled lady are new ingredients, these are very common to Chinese cuisine, especially cooked simply as at Yunnan Kitchen with a light garlic sauce.

 

 

Even though the dishes thus far have been pretty small, the noodles and rice dishes are quite sizable.  The Chinese sausage fried rice and mushroom rice cakes are easy to share.  The fried rice is full of bite size pieces of Chinese greens and mushrooms but you have to dig a little harder to find the few pieces of sausage, making this a treasure hunt.  No need to work this hard for a piece of mushroom in the mushroom rice cake.  Toothsome pieces of chewy rice cakes are coated with a vinegar soy based sauce and even though this is vegetarian, you don’t miss meat at all.

 

 

A great pot of green tea with small bites of almond cookies are a fantastic almost traditional way to end a meal.  The tea at Yunnan Kitchen is served in a beautiful ceramic pot that is just enough for four generous cups.  No need at all for a proper dessert.

Yunnan Kitchen | 79 Clinton Street  New York, NY 10002 | http://yunnankitchen.com

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