Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do You Remember When...

all Chinese restaurants had red flocked wallpaper? Probably because the color red means good luck to the Chinese, but since red is also considered an appetite stimulant, this double “whammy” couldn’t hurt.

At the time that Chuck and I were first investigating Philadelphia’s Chinese food scene, this red wallpaper, sometimes accented with gold foil, was ubiquitous along with sweet and sour shrimp (which came with pineapple and maraschino cherries), the venerable pu-pu platter, and sizzling wor ba. (Every time I am in a Mexican restaurant and hear a plate of fajitas being served, I immediately flashback to Chinese restaurants and the sizzling wor ba.)

In those days (early 1970’s) Chinese food was Mandarin or Cantonese. No one had heard of Hunan and Szechuan. Japanese food meant Japanese-style hibachi steakhouses like Benihana with the occasional tempura tossed in. No one had heard of sushi or sashimi. Nor had we explored Thai food with its green and red curries and pad Thai. Nor did we know Korean barbeque or Vietnamese phở. And what did we know of fish sauce or lemongrass?

Well, times have changed. We have our choice from many Asian cuisines. (Although I have often read that to get real Asian food you need to go into the kitchen and eat what the cooks have prepared for themselves.) And we don’t have to stay with one cuisine since many Asian restaurants now serve Asian-fusion. And that brings us to Young’s Café in Fort Collins, CO.

“This is exactly what Young’s Cafe is. A Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde—Is it Viet-namese? Is it Chinese? It’s the “Oriental Catch-All,” so it’s a Frankenstein of both. Young’s Café…has been a local favorite since opening in 1987. Generations of families have gone there to enjoy Chinese food and Vietnamese food alike. When you walk in, there are a handful of awards lining the walls, right next to a large fish tank and a smaller gold fish bowl that entices the kids to play with them” (feastingfortcollins.com).

On the k99.com/ best-places-to-take-mom-on-mother’s-day-in-fort-collins website, Young’s was listed as Number 4 for The Best Oriental Food in Fort Collins.

No red flocked wallpaper here. The walls are painted a soft mossy green and are hung with Asian influenced prints or painted with large white storks. (Well, we think they are storks. They may be swans. Whatever.)

Young’s is officially classified as Vietnamese food, but the menu is as much influenced by Chinese cuisine as Vietnamese. There is a long list of Lunch Combos served with fried rice, spring roll, and soup of the day (you can substitute the crystal roll or vegetable crystal roll for $1.00). Each combo comes with a stir fry containing chicken, pork, beef, tofu, or vegetables or, for an additional $0.50, shrimp or scallops. All seem to contain the same mélange of vegetables (corn, carrots, mushrooms, green and yellow squash, snow peas, celery, broccoli, onion, and bell peppers). The differentiating factor is the stir fry sauce.

On our first visit to Young’s, we started with that Chinese restaurant staple—pan-fried pork dumplings with ginger sauce—six wonderful little dumplings filled with minced pork, ginger, and garlic. The ginger sauce contained all of my favorite Chinese flavors—salty (soy), nutty (sesame oil), sweet (rice wine vinegar), and ginger. Delicious.

Chuck ordered the chicken with garlic sauce from the Lunch Combo menu which came with a side of fried rice with peas and diced carrot and bell pepper, a fried spring roll, and a cup of hot and sour soup.

The soup contained plenty of “sour,” but was in need (in my opinion) of much more “hot.” Still, as the soup of the day in a Chinese restaurant, this was a “good” to “very good” version.

The spring roll came in a thin rice paper wrapped and was deep fried. This thin wrapper made this a far preferable alternative to the traditional Chinese restaurant egg roll with its thick heavy wrap. The fried rice was better than average.

The garlic chicken came with the above vegetable mixture and ultra tender slices of chicken breast with a spicy and garlicky sauce that contained soy, sesame oil, garlic, and plenty of chili paste.

From the list of Vietnamese Style Noodle Soups, I chose the Lemongrass Seafood Noodle Soup (Pho Do Biên Canh Xa) that contained shrimp, scallops, and squid in a mildly-spiced, lemongrass-flavored broth that came with a brown hoisin-like sauce, bean sprouts, jalapenos, lime, and basil on the side. This was delicious although I would have liked a more pronounced lemongrass flavor.

A week later found us back at Young’s. This time we started with the same pan fried pork dumplings (still delicious) and

an order of Shrimp Dumplings (5) (Bánh Tôm Chiên or shrimp wrapped in crispy dumpling skin). These were the least successful of the items we ordered at Young’s. The whole and butterflied shrimp were wrapped in a wonton-like skin and deep fried. They were overcooked, heavy, and oily.

We both chose lunch combos which came with the day’s soup—egg drop—and we substituted crystal rolls for the spring rolls. I am no big fan of egg drop soup, but I do admit this was a much-better-than-average version of this Chinese restaurant standard. The crystal rolls ((Goi Cuón) contained shrimp, lettuce and noodles rolled in soft rice paper and came with a mild sweet chile dipping sauce.

Our choices—the hot and spicy chicken for Chuck and

the chicken with sate (not to be confused with Indonesian or Thai satay) sauce for me—contained the same vegetable mixture (with extra mushrooms for Chuck) and the same very tender chicken slices. While both dishes were listed as being spicy, neither achieved the same degree of heat as Chuck’s garlic sauce on our previous visit.

On both of our visits I would have liked—with the exception of the chicken in garlic sauce—more spice in the various dishes. But after some online reading, this may be as spicy as it gets for Asian food in Fort Collins. While there were some misses—especially the shrimp dumplings—Young’s still earns our 4.0 Addie rating.

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