Since we have been together, my wife Jun and I have always tried to be careful in checking out new restaurants in NYC, always reading reviews elsewhere and seeing what items from the menu we can make the most out of for our meal. Inevitably, though, there are always places that fall way below our expectations. Around the time when we had a very solid dinner at Little Tong Noodle Shop showcasing a Chinese noodle dish called mixian that we had never tasted before, downtown Manhattan soon became flooded with several other new Chinese noodle shops. Among those, I wanted to check out Yuan, which showcases mi fen from Guilin in southern China. Unfortunately, Yuan turned out to be one of the most puzzling and disappointing meals for us this year.
Jun and I have always been partial to spicy Chinese food, so for starter we chose spicy chao cabbage. Once Jun got a bite of a piece of cabbage, she was immediately drawn back by its sheer sweetness. “It almost seems like the kitchen decided to dump a small cart of sugar on top of it”. Things became even worse for the small dim sum sampler, consisting of two pieces each of shrimp dumpling, tri-color dumpling (a mix of taro, celery, carrot, cilantro and dried shrimp) and chiu chow (a mix of dried shrimp, ground pork, Cantonese sausage, celery, turnip and garlic chive). We were OK with shrimp dumplings (although far from above average), but once we started tasting the others, Jun remarked the ingredients taste like they have been stored inside a refrigerator for days before coming out. While I wouldn’t go that far, there was something off about the freshness of the ingredients or the way they worked together inside the shell.
Well, all would’ve been forgiven had the main noodle dishes redeemed themselves, right? I was intrigued by the funny name “old buddy style” mi fen soup with fermented bamboo shoot, fermented soy bean, pork scallion, bok choy, fresh chili and spiced egg. Jun was astonished by the funky flavor of the soup, calling it “one of the most horrifying sensations I’ve had”, although I wasn’t too offended by it (but I did have to drop my soup spoon midway as the funkiness eventually got the better of me). The classic dry noodle, with an ostentatious designation of “2,200 years of history, 15 spice flavor”, was slightly better but not by much. I always like a noodle to be firm, but the one for the mi fen was softer than I had hoped, and I instead of the complexity of taste that I expected from a combination of distinct ingredients like beef shank, pork jowl, pickled long bean, fried soy bean, scallion, cilantro, minced garlic, red pepper flake and spiced egg, the overall flavor came out quite underwhelming.
Yuan doesn’t take reservations and the modern dining space, looking to appeal primarily to younger crowds hanging out in the East Village area, quickly became packed. There is full bar with some cheesy sounding Asian-inspired cocktails (we just got a bottle of Tsingtao beer each). Only after I took Jun to a nearby dessert shop that she became calm after what she described as one of the worst meals of her lifetime. Jun and I have not been afraid to take some risks at times when it comes to our culinary journey together, but this adventurous trip to sample unknown Chinese noodle dishes was a little bit too much for us. As much as we cherish diversity of different cuisines from different parts of the world, I guess there are some dishes that just don’t work for our palate.
- Creativity: 7.0/10
- Execution: 4.5/10
- Ingredients: 4.0/10
- Flavor: 5.5/10
- Texture: 6.0/10
- Value: 7.0/10
Address: 157 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (917) 262-0978