NEW YORK, NY
I love bad Chinese takeout. It is either chicken broccoli or Chinese chicken wings with pork fried rice. Now obviously I knew that was not what I would get visiting Yingtao so I truly was curious. I really do not know of any fine dining Chinese restaurant in New York. The space is that of sleek blacks tiles with new age (read: rap) music on the speakers. Since I had a few more restaurant stops after them, I skipped the beverage pairing for an adhoc cocktail order. I started with the Mala Negroni which had green peppercorns in it. True to form, I was hesitant of what level of spice I would receive but I went ahead with the taste. The citrus on the nose is truly welcoming while the very mild spice on the finish was a welcoming pop of flavor. This was a win for me.
For the starters, there were three. A daikon egg roll, a mussel salad and foie gras on what looked like a macaron shell. The daikon egg roll was reminiscent in flavor of a vegetable spring roll, grasping just the right balance of fried flavor while not having an overwhelming grease flavor. While the caviar was present (and appreciated), I cannot really speak to what it brought to the dish. Next I had the mussel salad with trout roe and a sauce that I believe was made of a blend of mustards. In general, I am hesitant to enjoy mustard given the bite of it but this has been reduced to a rich savory flavor with the addition of a creamy element. I also tasted some citrus in here that additionally counterbalanced whatever possible bite that would present itself. I scraped the bowl on this one. Finally, I tasted the foie gras. I was advised to enjoy it in a single bite but I decided against that as I felt that would be far too rich of flavors in my mouth given the amount of foie on the plate. The foie macaron cracked as I picked it up so I had to use the spoon. I was grateful for the fractional enjoyment however as the richness of the foie plating against the sweetness of the macaroon was magical. All in all, I found the starters to be a very exciting beginning to the meal.
As I waited for the next set of courses, one of the chefs brought out several ducks onto the chefs counter and I drooled eagerly awaiting when I would enjoy that. It was the last of the savory courses so I had a long wait ahead of me. Next was the red prawn with a sauce that had a kick and sunchoke crisps. I was instructed to dip the prawns generously in the sauce in order to have the full experience. The prawn was succulent and the addition of the sunchoke crisp to a bite was a wonderful texture profile on the palate. The final addition of the sauce made it muted on spice but enhanced in savory flavor. I found this dish to be quite enjoyable.
Next was the buckwheat noodle in hot and sour broth. Enjoying this was like the satisfying feeling you have when you put your face in a bowl of ramen and slurp like no one is watching. I tasted sesame oil in the broth but I cannot be sure as Chinese food is where I get stomped on describing the ingredients even though it is in fact really easy to cook. The bitterness of the thinly shaved radishes also introduced an interesting exploration of flavors to the dish. I particularly loved how small the portion was on this noodle bowl as generally consuming carbs mid meal bloats me and means I will not finish my meal but this was a perfect portion. A win on this dish was had for sure.
Next up was the tofu. It was a recipe from the owners’ grandmother (who the restaurant is named after as well) with a flair of vegetable medley from chefs time in Spain in a biodynamic farm. There is this Nigerian dish called Eko. I do not know what it is made of but it is light, fluffy and flavorless. It is to be eaten with a variety of sauces and seamlessly takes on their flavor and enhances them with its body. That experience is the same that I had here with this steamed tofu and what a wonderful experience it was to enjoy.
Next up was the monkfish with carrot brown butter sauce and bergamot. I took a moment to appreciate the artful presentation as this was actually quite pretty and deserved that respect. The monkfish and carrot brown butter sauce was an expedition to be had as the fish was placed upon it. Savoring the richness of the sauce with the firmness of the fish brought delight to my palate. The addition of the bergamot element added a sweet dimension to the forkful of flavor. I decided against trying the fermented olives as I am not the biggest fan of olives to begin with let alone fermented ones. This dish was a win even without that tasting.
Finally, it was time for the pipa duck that I had been drooling about since the start of the meal. So the introduction of the dish and instructions on how chef recommends enjoying it were a bit complicated. Ok fine they were not complicated but I had had my mind set on just demolishing the duck but there was a process to enjoy the duck with pickles to rinse the palate. Then for the pairing pumpkin roll to enjoy with the sauce that was poured on the duck. Following the chef’s instructions (as I always do), I found divinity. The duck I believe was mentioned had been brined for seven days and cured overnight before being prepared and served. The depth of flavor here was unimaginable and some things are best left to personal experience so basically I am saying come in and try it for yourself. As for the pumpkin roll, I was weary of dipping it in the sauce but the sweet and salty pairing was most definitely a win.
The transition to dessert dish had elements of shaved ice with a lime cookie. It was quite sweet and since I do not have a sweet tooth, it was quite wasted on me. This was the cherry blossom dessert with elements of champagne. The final dessert was pear with Chinese almonds and I truly hoped for less sweetness than the prior dessert. Alas I did not get my wish. The good news is that all components of the dish stood out on their own with successful execution but the sweetness was just something that I could not bear. Tasting the components together was reminiscent of an apple pie but with pear. All together this was a successful dish just not one I could enjoy due to my lack of a sweet tooth.
So that was the end of my visit to Yingtao and I look forward to many more visits to this restaurant.