Yvonne and Yujean Kang have served Chinese food to diners in greater Los Angeles for 20 years. San Gabriel Valley region Chinese restaurants flip over twice a year. Something must be said about the Chinese cuisine coming out of this particular kitchen, and despite trying to wrap words around the experience from 2 months ago, I’m still mostly at a loss.
Witness the facts: Yujean Kang, to celebrate the 20th anniversary in Los Angeles, concocted a thoughtful prix fixe menu meant to attract both the faithful and the new:
Crispy tofu rolls filled with chicken and mustard green
Chinese consommé with pork rib and watercress
Sautéed jumbo prawns with smoked black cod
Sautéed filet of prime quality beef tenderloin in Chinese style
Slow cooked baby back ribs in traditional sweet and sour sauce
Red braised fresh black cod with roasted garlic
Fresh sea scallops sautéed with fresh cucumber and jelly fish,
Szechwan spicy peppercorn sauce
Sautéed lamb loin with mushroom, crispy Parma ham,
fresh organic chrysanthemum flowers
Sautéed baby bok choy with fresh shitake mushrooms
Red bean pancake with coconut sauce
While you may have seen pictures various items from above, this particular chef’s special contained nearly none of above. Instead, what arrived were, as advised by spouse partner Yvonne Kang, “the classics”. I believe the rap kiddies would call this “kicking it old school”. After the 7 course degustation, I’m convinced Chef Kang can throw down a Han Imperial Feast (well, maybe not 300 courses, but 100 should be easy, no?)
Once upon a time in LA, Shibucho shocked the sushi fans by introducing omakase red wine tasting. While Americans have long attempted to pair plonk with chop suey, it’s not often a Rhone white is served instead of oolong outside of Mr. Chow’s. Behold the wine pairing at Yujean Kang’s:
First: 2009 Yves Cuilleron St. Joseph Blanc Le Lombard…
… which was followed shortly by the opposing “hot and sour” fish chowder. This was, bar none, the most exquisite (is exquisite part of the worst 78 words used in restaurant reviews as dictated by CHOW?) serving of hot and sour soup ever served in a French soup bowl. It was spicy hot, it was sour, it was distinctly Chinese, but every Jew, Kosher or otherwise, would still find it lovable.
Next up “sauteed julienne of sturgeon with julienne of snow pea, black mushroom, tomato, crispy bok choy and glazed walnut- 本店魚絲” (chef’s description). Let’s just examine dish name first. It rivals anything from Lucques, an offender with long menu descriptors, ie: “grilled whole fish with yellow tomato confit, asian greens, cilantro rice, and cashew sambal”. Lucques, 14 words : Yujean Kang, 18. Furthermore, Lucques isn’t offering table-side plating:
Team Kang wants you to know the Chinese cooked the hell out of pork belly before the Angelenos (or the Japanese in Los Angeles for that matter) even thought of snout2tail. We’re not talking about mere decades, we’re talking about generations of Chinese cookery. At YK, a version of Chairman Mao’s favorite dish is served more Shanghai style, and gussied up with seasonal vegetables (winter bamboo shoots, fresh black mushrooms). It’s not quite Dongpo pork, but the heart does want to attack itself immediately after (see below).
Paying special attention to alternating offerings of the land and of the sea, a soy braised black cod was up next. Again, this is a fish of gentle nature, befitting a sensitive palate. There’s no umami via miso, there is no extra layers of MSG. Just clean, lightly seasoned fish, cooked with androitness, and smelling of perfumy soy roasted garlic.
If you’re astute enough to have requested the “ancient” chef’s tasting (which is way, WAY off the menu), the “Ma La Sichuan Chicken” 麻辣四川雞條 might appear next on the table. This is not Panda Inn’s kung pao chicken, there’s actually plating aesthetics at play. The crisped bed of vermicelli noodles serve as a pleasant contrast to the tender julienned chicken, and is not at all reminiscent of the key ingredient in PF Chang’s lettuce wrap. After a bite, you feel more Chinese, less suburban Oklahoman.
The Chinese, with too many thousand years of culinary wisdom, would not wish to continue the onslaught of animal protein after four courses. The Chinese do not approve of “Animal”. The final main course of the night is also the most ancient in the Chinese recipe books: 鍋塌絲瓜, “Beijing style silk squash”. A version of dish, using three different cucumbers and gourds, is one of the signature dishes in the Great 8 Regional Chinese Cuisine. Think of this as a Chinese piccata utilizing a gourd (with medicinal properties, of course) instead of eggplant (which, of course, was first cultivated in Asia). The Chef and the chef-wife were most proud of the final entree this one particular Spring evening:
Really though, a pithy plate-by-plate does Yujean Kang’s anniversary no justice. A fitting tribute that really convey the importance of this milestone requires Herculean efforts (and perhaps comparisons to the Other Greats in Los Angeles) beyond the scope of this piece. Know this: there is no other Los Angeles Chinese restaurant elevating Sino grub save Yujean Kang. We love the JTYHs, and the New Chong Qings. But Yujean Kang is more Campanile, Lucques, and Spagos, less Dean Sin World, and if you’re tired of blowing $60 wad on pop-up meals, come to Pasadena for a bit of Asian food enlightenment.
[[ Tasting courtesy of Yujean Kang]]
67 NORTH RAYMOND AVENUE
PASADENA, CA 91103
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