This post by Ed (from Yuma) is here today because Kirk is jet lagging and Cathy is resting up for the holidays.
I cannot remember a time in my life before Chinese food. Of course I am not speaking of truly authentic Chinese food as found in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, or Chengdu, but of the more pedestrian Americanized versions that exist in places like Columbus Ohio, Long Beach Washington, Monterey California – or Medford Oregon, where I grew up.
My mom had a rule – she cooked six days a week, and like God, she rested on the seventh. That meant we went out to eat once a week. My dad had lived several years in Asia and truly loved rice. That meant I grew up eating a lot of “Chinese” food at Kim's Restaurant on S. Pacific Hwy at the south edge of Medford back in the 50s and 60s.
Therefore, finding edible sortof-Chinese food wherever I am living is important to me. Which is why this post focuses on two "Chinese" restaurants in Yuma. First, Yuma Palace: The last time I posted about this location, it was called Grand China, so it is still a large traditional Americanized Chinese restaurant space. This picture just shows part of the half of the restaurant where the current management seats people most days: The other restaurant is named Asian Gourmet (do not confuse it with Asian Star): When I moved to town, AG was called The Fortune Cookie. Then it became another location for Highway 95 Café. After a long slow decline, the ownership changed (though some of the old crew are still around), and the restaurant was remodeled and given a new name. Here's a shot of the new interior: I like eating out for lunch, so I love lunch specials. Asian Gourmet has 20 different ones (currently $6.55 or $7.55). Yuma Palace offers more choice – around 40 options – at $6.25 or $6.99. All of them come with rice (white, brown, or fried) and a cup of soup.
Yuma Palace offers four different soups. Egg drop: Wonton: Miso: or hot and sour: The egg drop has a good broth and plenty of egg. Although the wonton soup broth is good, the filling reminds me of hamburger more than traditional porky mystery meat. The miso is pretty standard with some miso flavor and a fair amount of tofu. The hot and sour is spicy and assertive.
At Asian Gourmet you can choose one of two with your lunch. Egg drop: or hot and sour: The egg drop is a particular favorite of mine with a rich broth and some vegetables along with the egg. Compared to Yuma Palace, the hot and sour is less strongly flavored, but has more complexity.
It's interesting to compare lunch specials from the two restaurants. Here is mix veg shrimp from Asian Gourmet: And rainbow shrimp from Yuma Palace: While the shrimp taste fresh and well-prepared at both places and the range of vegetables is similar, the portion size is larger at Yuma Palace. Of course, at Asian Gourmet, the specials come with a fried wonton and eggroll.
Here is the orange chicken from Asian Gourmet: And from Yuma Palace: There are some similarities. In both cases, the chicken was fried well. The differences, however, are more striking. At AG the chicken pieces are more uniformly sized and come with several steamed pieces of broccoli. I also loved the dice of fresh onion and bell pepper – extra texture and color. Again, the portion size at YP is larger, but the chicken pieces are more heavily breaded and the single broccoli floret looks very lonely on the plate. The sauce at YP, on the other hand, is much more strongly flavored with bits of orange peel and charred dried chili throughout.
Since YP offers more choices, I have more pictures of their specials. When I'm feeling like a vegetable, I can have garlic sauce on either eggplant: or string beans: While the Thai curry chicken doesn't really remind me of an authentic Thai curry, it is nicely crunchy, very spicy, and curry flavored: Even though I don't quite understand having rice alongside a noodle dish, YP offers some noodly specials. Here’s lo mein with pork: A little greasy for my taste, but I happily ate it all.
Noodles, on the other hand, are a specialty at Asian Gourmet. I think their phad thai is the best in town with pretty much the right taste and a pleasant complexity of flavors and textures: The house combo lo mein is pretty standard but also pretty good: Chow Kueh Teoh, a Malaysian seafood noodle dish, is simple but very tasty. The egg, squid, shrimp, and mussels come together nicely: Noodle soups are also featured on the menu at AG. Here is the roast pork with wonton noodles soup: I like the broth, and the wontons and vegetables are fine. Sadly the char siu slices are dry and chewy, but this filling bowl of soup is only $.26 more than a lunch special.
The seafood tom yam noodle soup is very tasty and very spicy: To my gringo palate, this tastes like authentic tom yum soup broth with distinct chile hot and lemon grass sour flavors, a lot of noodles, and some seafood and veggies.
One can also have the a similar Curry flavored sauce (or teriyaki) on a bowl of noodles (or rice) either with just mixed vegetables – as in this picture – or with barbecued pork, jumbo shrimp, or teriyaki chicken: Actually cheaper than a lunch special.
At current prices, all of the noodles I've pictured are well under $10 – that’s a good deal to me. For just a few additional shekels, you can get this beautiful “Julianne Pan-Fried Noodle": The crunchy golden nest holds a nice combination of beef, chicken, shrimp, and assorted vegetables in a mild sauce. As well prepared as the somewhat similar dish at China Max.
Yuma Palace, on the other hand, also has some real strengths. It has a liquor license, so you can get basic beer, wine, or cocktails. It has enough room for sizable group of people. It also has a lot of choices and a wider range of "Chinese" dishes. While the egg rolls have never impressed, other appetizers, like the sesame pork ribs, are pretty tasty: The sauce was a bit sweet and a touch too syrupy, but we ate every piece.
They have standards items like mushu, or shrimp in lobster sauce, or this double cooked pork: Tina and I also enjoy the black bean shrimp:and the Hunan chicken: YP also features some sauces unusual in Yuma. Here is shrimp in sacha sauce: and cumin sauce with beef: Yeah, I wish it were cumin sauce with lamb, but still a tasty dish.
Also notice the variations of veggies in each of these YP entrees.
Along with standard fried rices, they offer a pineapple and seafood version: or this house special: Bear in mind, however, that Yuma Palace launches a few duds. Avoid the homestyle bean curd with its dense chewy tofu triangles: and the crispy sesame tofu was god-awful – not crispy, not flavorful, just cloyingly sweet. Similarly, the Japanese offerings are (at best) hit or miss. Here's a Bento box: The picture largely speaks for itself . Still way better than Asian Star.
The sushi and sashimi lunch special looks okay, and would probably be fine if bathed in enough wasabi/soy sauce, but . . . (I am picky about sushi). Also a bit confusing for me putting this post together is that the online/to go menu isn't identical to the one in the restaurant. Not sure why that is.
Asian Gourmet, though having a smaller menu and mercifully no attempts at Japanese cuisine, does prepare a range of standards such as a decent twice cooked pork: a fresh tasting champagne fish with some complexity in its sweetish sauce: and a pretty boring moo goo gai pan (called mushroom chicken on the menu): My favorite entrée at AG is pattaya shrimp. This picture shows why: The plentiful shrimps have good flavor, complemented by numerous chunks of fresh pineapple, abundant slices of onions, bits of dried shrimp and whole dried chilies. The sweet tangy chili sauce brings it all together.
I am glad both of these restaurants are in Yuma. Their cuisines (and ambience) are markedly different from the simple Mexicali/Cantonese of Yummy Yummy. It is interesting to me that none of these three are typical old school ABCDE places – though they all certainly cater to Americanized Yuma tastes.
If you have read this post all the way to the end, I want to thank you for your patience and persistence.
I also want to wish every reader Happy Holidays and remind everyone that the 2015 Somerton Tamale Festival will take place on December 19 in Somerton Arizona. It’s certainly the biggest food event in Yuma County, and you won't believe the quality and variety of the tamales – muy rico!!