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Monday, September 26, 2011

Yee's Restaurant: A Little Chaos, a Little Roast Pork

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Lai fun with roast pork from Yee's Restaurant. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Lai fun with roast pork from Yee's Restaurant.

Rice Plate Journal

is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering

the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price:


Grant Street, with its souvenir shops and herbal dispensaries, isn't much of an eating strip, so it's a surprise to walk into Yee's Restaurant and delve into a cloud of noise and motion. A line hugs the butcher counter, where a couple of men ladle braised meats into to-go containers and hack roast duck and goose into bite sizes. Business women who've walked up from FiDi split a fried fish and a heap of vegetables, while tourists share the big round tables with construction workers vacuuming up rice plates and congee-sipping old men wearing multi-colored ribbons pinned to their suitjackets.

A friend and I stand there, dazed by the noise, until one of the waiters who move about the big room in fast, wide arcs waves a hand and asks us, "Two?" We nod, and she gestures us around the tubs of salted duck legs and the mirrored columns into the maze of tables, and we race to follow her to our designated chairs.

The menu at Yee's restaurant is dominated by noodles, stir-fried or in soups, plus $5 rice plates: beef with bitter melon, roast pork with tofu, salt-and-pepper shrimp. The guy next to us is bent over a bowl of soup, sucking skinny egg noodles out from beneath a cap of barbecued pork. That looks like just about the best thing around us (fried fish included), so as soon as we manage to catch one of the careening waiters, we order something similar, along with pork meatballs with snap peas.

Fish balls with snap peas. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Fish balls with snap peas.

He almost gets our order right: The same dish with fish balls. Spongy and generic, they're tossed with barely cooked vegetables and thin-stemmed mushrooms in a clear sauce. There's not much to the dish, but the bright green crunch of the peas is welcome, at least until our other dish arrives three or four minutes later.

The lai fun, thick and wiggly rice noodles, are chewy and easy to slurp. Do I detect that mushroomy MSG flavor in the dark chicken broth? A little, but MSG is no enemy of mine.

For every two mouthfuls of noodles I inhale without misting my shirt with droplets of broth, I reward myself with a slice of meat. Rimmed in red, the lean medallions of pork have softened in the hot broth. The marinade is far from cloying, yet it leaches some of its sweetness into the broth, which grows more fragrant as the level in the bowl drops. It takes us at least five minutes to catch a waiter to get the check, but my friend is so pleased with the pork he stops at the butcher counter on the way out, and picks up a half-rack of ribs.

Yee's Restaurant: 1131 Grant (at Pacific), 576-1818.

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