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Aug 27, 2008 10:05 AM

changes at Z&Y

Walking into Z&Y to pick up lunch yesterday, I noticed fresh white walls and an unfamiliar calmness and sterility to the place. The new host at the front said that a former chef at the local Chinese consulate bought Z&Y and is now working with the previous Z&Y chef in the kitchen. Sadly, the very kind older waiter is no longer there, but the new crew seemed pleasant.

The menu is much shorter and still focuses on Sichuanese specialties, with a Yunnan dish or two and a slew of Americanized Chinese standards. I was relieved to see my regular dishes -- cumin beef, chicken with explosive chili pepper, and dan dan mien -- still on the menu. The host said that the new chef plans to kick up the spice level considerably.

I took dan dan mien back to my office. It was good, though I slightly prefer the previous version. The sauce is now thinner, less oily, and omits sesame paste. The Sichuan pepper is more pronounced. They still use the thick noodles I like, which are not overcooked. I'm eager to see what other dishes are like now.

Z & Y
655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

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  1. I was aware of a recent ownership change, and was waiting to see if anybody noticed a diffference in the food. Interesting that the owner is a former chef at the Chinese consulate; they normally are rotated back to China after a two-year term, but maybe he obtained residency through marriage or something.

    One of the best Chinese meals of my life was at a home in Parsippany, New Jersey where a Shanghainese family friend of my wife's was providing sanctuary to a chef (also Shanghainese) from the Chinese consulate in NY who didn't want to return to China. (That was 15 years ago, so I don't think I'm jeopardizing anybody).

    7 Replies
    1. re: Xiao Yang

      I should add that although I did notice a difference in the dan dan mien from how it often is, the dan dan mien has always had lots of variance. Sometimes thin noodles; sometimes no sesame paste; sometimes lots of oil. The difference I experienced yesterday was within the bounds of regular variation in the dan dan mien, so maybe the food won't actually change much. Needs more research!

      1. re: david kaplan

        This place deserves keeping an eye on. I buzzed by for a peek around 6:30 and and even as dinner service was beginning some of the staff was busy tweaking the focus, or at least the way it's being presented to the world, measuring window spaces, discussing additional signage, etc.

        In the window, there is a series of of color snaphots of various dishes offered, but interspersed with these are a couple of pictures of a man in a chef's hat making hand-pulled nodles, AND a picture of an acrobatic tea server doing the ol' over-the-shoulder pour from a long spout tea kettle. It'll be interesting to see if the implied promise of these two novelties comes to bear.

        It's also probably noteworthy to some, though it doesn't impress me, that the newly-printed menus promise NO MSG in bold letters

        I also noticed that prices seem to have gone up a bit, and the window display was missing a lunch specials menu.

        1. re: Xiao Yang

          Some of the locations of the Sichuan restaurant group that owned the former Sam Lok used to serve the traditional eight treasures tea from fancy kettle, but not the SF store. Hope this becomes part of the offerings here.

          1. re: Xiao Yang

            I stopped in for a couple Shichuan favorites last weekend and enjoyed both the Shichuan pepper beef tender (sic) and the cold Shichuan noodels. I am still adjusting from living in NYC where Shichuan was a dominant part of chinese options. Can't wait to go back and try the Comin (sic) beef and Sichaun Chicken. It was quiet in the mid afternoon, and the service was very good. Fluent english speakers and showed a real interest in my enjoyment.

            1. re: Chris Rising

              Fluent English is a major change. They were always really nice, but communication was difficult.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I never had a problem there, especially with the tall, easygonig waiter who seemed to always be there. His English was fluent.

      2. OK the question from me is how many Yunan dishes are remaining. Are the Crossing Bridge Noodle and chicken pot soup still offered (and still good), most importantly.

        2 Replies
        1. re: K K

          I didn't pay attention to that, primarily because I thought the Yunnan dishes were the weaker side of the menu (perhaps not so much in execution as in their appeal to my tastes). Frankly, I find crossing the bridge noodles bland and oily, and couldn't order them more than once when there were spicy and oily wheat noodle options on the same menu.

          1. re: K K

            I was not very impressed with the crossing the bridge noodles ("Yunnan traditional noodle soup") before.

          2. I stopped by in the heat of the mid-afternoon for some wontons in chili oil, a cold Tsing Tao and whatever intelligence I could garner. I learned the hand-pulled noodles are available only once a week, currently Sunday. (It's a Sunday "special", according to the server I spoke to). I didn't ask about he Sichuan-style tea service, bit I'm guessing it might also be part of a Sunday dog and pony show.

            They still have the lunch specials, though they are not posted in the window. The server showed me a laminated lunch specials menu, which seemed to be about the same selection as before, but a buck or two more ($6.99 for most). The lunch specials list is frontloaded with a lot of Chinese-American standards, but has some Sichuan classics in it like yuxiang rousi, mapo doufu and twice-cooked pork.

            The signature Yunnan dishes Crossing the Bridge Noodles and Steampot Chicken are still on the menu.

            The hongyou chaoshou was a good version. The wontons had a firm, savory marble-sized filling and a "comet-tail" wrapper, resembling Shanghai "xiao huntun." The chili oil was infused with chopped peanuts and sesame seeds, and a spring onion garnish topped the dish.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Thanks XY it is good to know those two Yunnan dishes are still on the menu, the missus had a craving for it last weekend, but last time we had that was 6 years ago, maybe it doesn't taste the same.

              1. re: K K

                Z&Y's only been open since 2005. Six years ago it was Sam Lok.

            2. I've found my favorite waiter from the old Sam Lok/Z&Y, described here,

              Monday night I returned to Trend in Mountain View again. I was a little worried walking in to be greeted in Cantonese, thinking that the kitchen might have turned over already. I even wandered over the wall where the business license, etc. is displayed to see if there were any recent changes. The food was the same, fortunately, and I recognized the chef in the kitchen from previous visits.

              The tallish, older, spectacled Cantonese waiter with the pleasant personality and resonant voice seemed so familiar to me. So, mid-meal I said as much and asked where else he had worked. Bingo - Sam Lok! His name is John Wong. He told me he'd already been through a couple ownership changes and decided not to adjust through the most recent one. He had worked with the chef/owner of Trend when he was cooking at Sam Lok. This also gave me the chance to confirm that the chef also cooked at China Village and Great Szechuan. Mr. Wong was recruited and left Z & Y on July 30. He said he took time off to watch the Beijing Olympics then started at Trend. His usual days on are Tueday through Sunday, but yesterday he switched with someone who needed the day off.

              He said business has been good and that the Trend will be rolling out more special dishes. I'm much more inclined to step outside the box in ordering having him as a server. Mr. Wong is completely fluent in English and always made good recs for me, and didn't hesitate to steer me away from certain dishes. He stopped me from ordering more this time, said we had plenty and "the chef's here if you want more." And, of course he was right. We still had a ton of leftovers, and he packed them up for us in the back and slipped an extra cup of pao cai (the complimentary pickled veggies) in our bag.

              Trend Restaurant
              400 Moffett Blvd, Mountain View, CA