"Nice-looking place," he replied, grinning. He was kidding. I think.
As it happens, though, Ya Shu Yuen Chinese Restaurant is a nice-looking place. True, almost each detail looks like every detail you have ever seen in any American-Chinese restaurant: the carved dragons; the colors; the general layout; the large, round tables for groups, replete with turntables to facilitate sharing; the menu; and the bustle of take-out orders being bagged and picked up at the cash register immediately inside the front door.
But there is one touch that gives a clue that Ya Shu Yuen is different somehow: the tablecloths. They are cross-stitched. Slender threads of pink, blue and green embroidery floss dance as flowers across the lovingly worn, white cotton table coverings under glass. It is absolutely wonderful, both to look at and to touch.
Perhaps, then, it should not have been so surprising that a restaurant that would think of doing this would greet my request for a dinner menu instead of the generic quickie-lunch menu with smiles and nodding heads. No fewer than three people rushed off to fetch one for me.
Meanwhile, yet another person appeared with the traditional, small, handleless cup and metal pot filled with green tea. Not until that moment did it occur to me that this ritual, which used to happen without fail, has been missing at the Chinese restaurants I have visited in the last few months. It is so nice to be welcomed that way -- so nice to be enveloped in the tea's aromatic steam while perusing the menu.
That menu, while not as deep as many others in the metro area, covers bits of Mandarin, Szechuan and Hunan cuisines. There are fewer than the usual number of spicy dishes, but you can doctor your plate to your heart's content with the sauces in perky plastic red and yellow bottles on each table. (Yes, they are the old mustard and ketchup bottles.) Otherwise, the principal seasoning you will detect is salt; the principal aftertaste will be sweet.
I love the body of the broths in the soups here. Especially the crab meet [sic] sweet corn soup, thick with egg white and morsels of crab, and loaded with delectable kernels of yellow corn.
If you are a fan of steamed dumplings, you will find a credible version here. (The menu employs the alternative term "pot stickers.") I am less enthralled with the somewhat thick covering and the filling, which could stand to be more savory, but the homemade sauce makes up for that.
As a general rule, you can expect Ya Shu Yuen's fish and shellfish dishes to please you more than those with pork, chicken or beef. After sampling several varieties, I have concluded that the kitchen, recognizing how little time fish takes to cook, is quite vigilant in the matter. When it comes to pork, chicken and beef, however, it tastes as though the kitchen relies too much on the power of its sauces, and allows the meats to sit in them. And sit. And sit.
Vegetables and rice, all of you vegetarians out there will be glad to know, are uniformly tender.
Ya Shu Yuen Chinese Restaurant, 5499 Chamblee Dunwoody Road in the Dunwoody Village shopping center, Dunwoody, 770-393-8674 and 770-393-8678. Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Sunday buffet noon-2 p.m.; Dinner Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 p.m. Inexpensive. Credit cards. Dress: casual. Ambiance: typical, except for the dear cross-stitched tablecloths. No-smoking section. Wheelchair accessible.
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