Crab Crab Crab Duck – Yum’s Bistro – Fremont, California
Few things can be more depressing for an ecstatic lover of ecstatic food that to dine at a Chinese restaurant alone. So many possibilities, so little to share. From a list of hundreds of dishes, the lone diner plays the lottery.
Without a large network, I have been Chinese-cuisine-deprived during my year in the Bay Area. But not entirely. On a quiet Tuesday an email popped into my inbox announcing a “chowdown,” sponsored by the San Francisco branch of Chowhound. In contrast to the LTH community in Chicago, these invitations are rare and rather select: twelve diners sitting around a table. It is a tough reservation to snag. And so I jumped at the invitation.
One of the favored restaurants of the Bay Area foodie community is Yum’s Bistro, located in a suburban shopping mall in Fremont (in the East Bay, across the Dumbarton Bridge from Palo Alto). The diners of SF Chowhound had previously held their New Year’s Feast at Yum’s, a restaurant that is Cantonese, broadly speaking. The chef had previously cooked in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Hong Kong and in large Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, but had retired. But retirement is not all that it is cracked up to be, and he decided to open a modest “bistro” in Fremont (although the Chinese meaning of bistro is somewhat obscure). The menu advertises their “exquisite crab dishes.” April is edging towards the end of Dungeness crab season on the West Coast, and my colleagues speculated that the sweet crab was from Washington State or beyond, but none the worse for its travel.
The organizer of the event is the estimable Melanie Wong, San Francisco’s answer to Cathy2, and she has been involved in the local chow community for so long that she recalled the breakup of LTH and Chowhound, casually referring to our Chicagoland rebels as “the Boys” (sorry, Cathy, I am just the reporter). As usual the group that gathered was congenial and bright. Aside from the fact that these gatherings are rarer in the Bay Area than in Chicagoland, what struck me most was a greater seriousness of attention to wine culture. Perhaps a dozen bottles of local and international wines were opened, and diners brought their own glasses (like chefs and their knives; the restaurant doesn’t supply wine glasses). The whole evening was good fun.
We began with a very flavorful soup, ordered special: watercress, dried scallops, and duck gizzards in a rich liquid. I was particularly impressed with the savory broth. It was supple and subtle, poultry and seafood, as sterling as a French bistro consommé.
Now followed our three Dungeness crab dishes, served in sequence, each competing for attention:
Soy sauce and garlic crab (a special preparation for our group).
Hunan crab served in a Clay Pot with hot peppers
Jakarta Chili Crab with curry and coconut milk.
I admired them all. The spice was not excessively intense, but still I preferred the Garlic Crab and the Jakarta Crab for the symphony of flavors. Although one thinks of crab as having a delicate flavor, certainly true, it does stand up impressively to spice. Crab and chili can be a beautiful marriage.
The trio of crab was followed by another specially prepared dish. Stuffed duck, fried and braised, with ham, barley, and nuts. The quality of the duck was not impressive, and the accompaniments didn’t sing either. Despite the impressive presentation, it is not a dish I plan to try again.
Shifting to the end of the night, we were served Ong Choi, hollowed hearted Chinese greens, sautéed with garlic. It is a green and bright change from protein. Our noodle dish, another special, was Longlife noodles with abalone and mushrooms (one twirls the noodles uncut or one’s life is shortened). The noodles were perfectly chewy and the abalone sauce was delicious.
Desserts included peach buns (a roll filled with sweet bean curd) and a tapioca soup. The peach buns were witty and sweet. The tapioca soup was properly made but overly thick for the end of an evening.
I was grateful to meet new friends and to learn that culinary friendship is not (quite) a Chicago monopoly.
4906 Paseo Padre Parkway
Fremont, CA 94555 (closed Tuesdays)
4 weeks ago