Southwestern Chinese with the Farmer’s Touch | Restaurant Review: Yunnan Kitchen

A trend that I appreciate is restaurants becoming more sustainable by consciously purchasing local and seasonal ingredients. RESPECT. The movement helps out the farmers and keeps commodity crops away from our bellies. However, there are so many restaurants in New York City these days that try to take credit for sourcing locally.

Some restaurants dedicate multiple pages on the menu to showcase how many local farms they source from when the other 90% of ingredients are sourced from C-Town warehouses. Restaurants, please remember that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. New York City diners are intelligent enough to differentiate local produce from supermarket ingredients.

Yunnan Kitchen is a newcomer that has embraced the farmer’s market’s bounty without all the fluff on its menu. The restaurant’s respect to Yunnan cuisine is embodied through seasonal ingredients on small plates.  Right now, it’s mushroom season, baby.

Two to three plates per person are ideal and fried potato balls are a must at the beginning of the meal. Dusted with Yunnan Spices, these delicate spheres are piping hot and soft to the touch. It’s the plain tater tot’s prettier Asian sister.

Tofu Ribbon Salad also offers a refreshing start to the meal. The texture of tofu skin is firm and slippery, but a revelation to my taste buds. Strong herbaceous notes of mint and cilantro gradually enter into the mix. The tofu is spicy, but not peppery. Chilies present the tingling feeling of málà that subtly lingers around your tongue until warm, savory stir fried mushrooms arrive to the table.

There are less memorable dishes like Pickled Green Papaya Salad. Crispy garlic sprinkled at the top bring an exciting buzz like you would find when eating pop rocks, but it’s still not enough to invigorate the warm shredded chicken and papaya.

However, the Crispy Whole Shrimp is electrifying. Have no fear and use your hands to suck the succulent head. If you’re in a more romantic scene, the Lamb Meatball Shao Kao (烧烤) is a juicy, less messy alternative. Fried Pork Belly might be tempting, but it’s not remarkably dreamy like Thrice Cooked Bacon from Mission Chinese Food.

Mushroom Rice Cakes and Chinese Sausage with Fried Rice are great ways to finish off dinner. The rice and noodle dishes offer tremendously bigger portions and could be a meal in itself. Both dishes are glazed with sweet and savory flavors of soy which gets more addicting after each bite. Ordering fried rice almost seems like a sin, but not when there are slices of killer Chinese sausages. If you’re with a group of friends, expect a little bit of competition for the spoonfuls of aromatic mushrooms.

There are no desserts at this time, but there is a memorable almond cookie treat for each person at the end of the meal.

On the night I visited, there wasn’t a single Asian cook in the kitchen. It excites me that Chinese cooking has branched out in New York City and a person no longer has to be Asian to competently cook the cuisine. What about authenticity? Authenticity is overrated. Yunnan Kitchen is sustainable and delicious. It’s a brilliant addition to the Lower East Side.

Yunnan Kitchen
79 Clinton Street
New York, NY 10002


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