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How is the Yenching in Harvard Sq?

The sign looks almost exactly the same as one I've been to in Toronto, at least 25+ years ago now. The Toronto one was a regular spot we hit where my family always ordered the exact same dishes. Whenever we deviated from the list, the waiter taking our order would ask us "but what about .... ?" My family will be flying in soon and since we only have one car, places easily accessible by T are a bonus. Does this place serve decent Chinese food? Yelp reviewers rated it well, but I've been steered wrong (dead wrong sometimes) by Yelp before. I'm also a little suspicious of a Harvard Sq location, where a lot of reviewers might be students who don't know food that well.

Bonus points if you can comment on whether they have good yu hsiang eggplant, tea smoked duck, pork and leek dumplings, and whole fish I remember being fried and doused in a spicy sauce? It would totally crack me up to recreate this childhood meal, in a restaurant of exactly the same name (with the exact same sign, no less). I could get takeout of all these from Shangri-La, but the laugh factor of having these at a Yenching so many years later might be worth the T ride...but only if the food is decent. Would you say this place is of similar calibre to Mulan, Golden Garden, and Shangri La (all places of which my out of town family approves)?

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Shangri-La
149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

Golden Garden
63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

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  1. Would you say this place is of similar calibre to Mulan, Golden Garden, and Shangri La

    No.

    It's been years since I've been, and the memory is fuzzy. Hopefully someone who's been recently can chime in, but I'd say if your family favors good food first, Yenching wouldn't be in your top 10 list of places to take them.

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    Golden Garden
    63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

    1. Thanks. I'll make a zip car reservation for one of the nights of their visit.

      1. Yenching has been there for decades (at least 4). I don;t know of the similarly named Toronto restaurant. Legend has it that it was started by a general in Chiang Kai Shek's army. I go there once a year for a birthday lunch of a dear mentor. The food is not extraordinary.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gourmaniac

          I ran a search, and the one in Toronto is still there! It was inside the Bayview Village mall, which is kind of a strange place for a Chinese restaurant. Amazingly, they are still there:

          http://www.chow.com/restaurants/88741...

          We went there in the 80s. But it's possible it's been around just as long as the one here. The food was also not extraordinary, but we ate there because the mall had a movie theatre, lots of shops, and a bookstore that we parked my Dad in.

        2. Yenching has indeed been there forever, but does do a few dishes well. Dumplings are fresh and nicely pan fried, and their Kung Pao is one of the best I've had. It's an authentic gong bao ji ding, with chillies, peanuts and a brown sauce (not rediculous sweet gloppy sauces with waterchestnuts or bell peppers or other nonsense). Not a destination restaurants surely, but easy to get a good meal at, if you're heading there for (quasi) nostalgic purposes.

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          Yen Ching Restaurant
          1326 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

          4 Replies
          1. re: keith

            The Yenching in Harvard Square is an anachronism. It actually predates the Joyce Chen/Mary Chung/Colleen's/Changsho boom of the 1970s, and is more of the Young & Yee period. The Young & Yee period was not known for quality, inventiveness, or authenticity. The Yenching has faithfully maintained the standards of the Young & Yee period, which means as a place to eat, give it wide berth. As a place to perform archeological and quasi-nostalgic explorations, probably OK.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Was young & yee the place over on church street?

              1. re: jgg13

                Right. It is now Cambridge 1. Its initial incarnation was as a firehouse, hence the name Cambridge 1.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  Ah. I remember digging it when I first moved back to boston ('99), but my tastes & knowledge of chinese food were decidedly americanized & suburban back then.

          2. Disgusting. Yenching may have a little nostalgia, but the food is terrible. Unlike the Hong Kong down the street (which also has even more nostalgia), Yenching does serve traditional style dishes, but does them uniformly badly; the Hong Kong, by contrast, produces decent if unremarkable versions of many Americanized Chinese classics. I've had to dine at Yenching off and on over the last ten years, and with the closing of Happy Garden in Somerville, it now ranks as my least favorite Chinese restaurant. I've included some pictures from a recent large meal there below --- the pictures look much better than the food tastes.

            If you must eat there, try the Sai Woo Fish and the Scallion Pancakes with Egg, both of which were edible, but not special. The shui3 zhu3 yu2 pian4 that was on the special menu looked beautiful in a nice iron pot, but managed to taste solely of oil, without even any hint of kick from the "hot" peppers. A bowl of beef noodle soup had water-logged noodles, limp vegetables, stringy beef, and a metal twist tie. The latter was probably more flavorful than the broth. I could go on.

            I don't mean to be hyperbolic, but I find it difficult to say enough bad things about this restaurant. The location, however, is excellent. If you have to eat Chinese food in Harvard Square, try to convince people to go to Zoe's Gourmet Chinese (a ten minute walk from the Harvard Science Center) instead. Even the Kong, Le's (middling Vietnamese), or any of the mediocre Thai offerings in Harvard Square are better than Yenching.

             
             
             
            6 Replies
            1. re: lipoff

              Thanks, lipoff. We definitely don't need to eat there. I can get decent takeout close by, and I'll get a zip car for one evening. Maybe to go to little Q...chowpups have never been, and it will be easier to do hot pot with them with the grandparents and aunts/uncles around

              1. re: little.tiger

                Unfortunately, if you want decent Chinese food, you would need to go to Quing Dao or Zoe's. Neither are great, but at least they are real!
                www.shrinkinthekitchen.com

                1. re: scotty27

                  Heck Shangri-La in Belmont is a short bus ride from Harvard Square and Golden Garden ain't that far either.

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                  Shangri-La
                  149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                  Golden Garden
                  63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                  1. re: scotty27

                    I disagree with your relative dismissal of Qingdao and Zoe's...both are often excellent.

                  2. re: little.tiger

                    Hotpot would definitely be fun with the pups. Also, consider Fuloon in Malden for great Chinese food. Easy on / off the orange line if you don't feel like dealing with a car. Lots of specific recs on this board.

                  3. re: lipoff

                    Happy Garden was (is, they still have another outpost) great for one reason. They're on foodler and they're deliver *late* (as in 2am-ish). Sometimes that's a necessary thing, ya know :) Having picked at some of my next-day leftovers, I've never been inclined to order from them when sober, however :)

                    I think the Kong delivers later, but making drunken phone calls at 2:30 to order chinese delivery never works out so well.