Restaurant Review: Yuet Lee, Chinatown, San Francisco

The Preferred Nomenclature: Delicious.

The best Chinese food in Napa? Sounds like a trick question to me. The truth is, every Chinese restaurant in the Napa Valley is homogenized through a distinctly American filter, which is what it is. I certainly don’t mean to disparage a Napa restaurant like Wah Sing, for instance (places that have an undeniably long history here in town), for being too simple or too similar. It’s just that when Wah Sing seems to serve the same food as Mini Garden, which serves the same food as China House, well then, what’s the point of even choosing where to eat? More than that, where’s the room for discussion? On the other hand, if you’ve been raised in suburban America, and you crave the version of hot and sour soup that you knew 20 years ago (along with a fortune cookie at the end), then you’re in luck: Napa’s Chinese restaurants can provide that dish several times over.

• • •

In order to break the fried-chicken cycle — at least for the time being — I’ve decided to embark on a Chinese food kick, which should lead me all over the Bay Area, especially to San Francisco. Yuet Lee, located on the corner of Broadway and Stockton, was a natural place for me to begin. Among many San Francisco locals, the venerable Yuet Lee is perhaps best known as a late-night spot (open until 3am some nights), although for me, their seafood dishes are their true calling card. The dish pictured above was the flounder special, served with green onions, mushrooms and bamboo shoots. The fish itself was steamed to fresh perfection, and was glazed with just the slightest hint of ginger, which provided subtle cameos throughout the dish. Simply based upon its deft balance of delicate flavors, this flounder was, without a doubt, one of the best things that I’ve eaten in an awfully long time. Its memory has remained with me.

Before the flounder sent me completely over the top, I ordered Yuet Lee’s shrimp noodle soup (pictured below), and I was frankly amazed at how perfectly the shrimp had been cooked. I can guarantee, no question in my mind, that the ocean-fresh shrimp were added to the dish just moments before the soup left the kitchen, allowing the residual heat from the broth, still scalding hot when it hit the table, to delicately cook them through. At its essence, the shrimp noodle soup at Yuet Lee remains a simple dish, but with deliberate thought and technique at its core. Timing, as much as anything else, is at the foundation of this deliciously satisfying soup, and I adore it for that very reason.

Steamy.

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