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Chowdown Report: Chinese New Year Banquet at Yum’s Bistro

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Yum’s Bistro in Fremont is featuring a Year of the Rabbit Banquet Menu (in Chinese only), $288 per table of 10,
http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

and more Chinese New Year special dishes (bilingual menu)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

Tonight a dozen ‘hounds gathered to chow down on the set menu, including

1. Combination appetizer: Seaweed salad, marinated jellyfish with daikon pickles, Japanese-style marinated baby octopi, mock roast goose, and char siu

2. Seafood & bamboo pith soup (and the lobster/kabocha dish were substitutes for the sharks fin combination soup on the set menu)

3. Fat choy (black moss) with dried oysters, dried scallops, roast pig, roasted garlic cloves, and lettuce

4. 100 blossom crispy bacon rolls filled with shrimp forcemeat

5. Sauteed scallops, oil duck (lop op), cloud ear fungi, snow peas, and celery

6. Crispy-skinned chicken stuffed with sticky rice ($20 surcharge to substitute for the concubine chicken on the set menu, 24-hour notice required)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

7. Crab meat, pea shoots and oyster mushrooms

8. Clear steamed striped bass

9. Lobster sauteed with golden egg yolk and kabocha

10. Fried rice with taro and lop mei

11. Red bean soup with black sesame-filled mochi dumplings (tong yuen) and fresh lily bulbs

Priced at $308 per table of 10, this turned out to be generously proportioned and enough to feed 12 hungry chowhounds. I was surprised to see that the bill had not been grossed up by 20% to serve two additional people. I double-checked with the staff and found out that what we'd been served was the normal portion size and not increased for the additional diners, therefore, no change in price. One of the rare occasions when the food is excellent and the portions are BIG.

Let's hear from the chowhounds around the table about their favorite dishes, criticisms, and any other comments on the meal. I'm glad we had a chance to get together at the start of the lunar new year feasting season and recommend this menu when there's still time for others to try it.

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Yum's Bistro
4906 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94555

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  1. This was a good meal, and the portions were indeed ample: we would have been hard pressed to finish it all with two fewer diners.

    Some memorable tastes:

    In the combination plate, I was happily surprised by the smoky flavor of the tofu skin with mushrooms.

    I've had shrimp paste in many forms, from Thai shrimp cakes to various dim sum, but Yum's bacon rolls were a novel and delicious combination. (I skipped the mayonnaise, though.)

    I've only had it a couple of times, but Yum's crispy chicken stuffed with sticky rice was my favorite version of this dish.

    The two vegetable dishes (scallop stir fry and pea shoots with crab sauce) sparkled, with beautiful colors and perfectly tender greens, and a good clean taste.

    I don't have any complaints, although I'd probably change the lobster preparation and skip the dried scallops/oysters/moss combination. And I always want more mochi balls.

    Photos online here: http://www.jeffersonscher.com/photos/...

    And I have to give thanks to Vince for assistance with ingredient translation, and numerous shopping and restaurant stories that helped deepen our appreciation of the dishes and keep us entertained between courses.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Jefferson

      Ohhh such great pictures - I'm so sorry I wasn't there :(

      1. re: estnet

        Ditto: Great photos! Thanks.

      2. re: Jefferson

        "although I'd probably change the lobster preparation and skip the dried scallops/oysters/moss combination. "

        BUMMMED I missed this. Work prevented me. Thanks to Melanie for settingit up!!

        Although not as common, the lobster preparation is a standard one. Was the egg, "salty egg" (shien dan, ham dan)?

        The oyster/moss/scallops preparation (if I am thinking of the same dish) is fairly typical of Chinese New Years dinners. My mom makes a HUGE pot every year.

        1. re: Cary

          Yes, it seemed to be the salty egg preparation.

          I'm so glad my parents refrained from making the oyster/moss/scallops dish. I think I would have dreaded New Year's if I knew that was coming. I'm afraid the flavor can be a bit overwhelming!

      3. Did the sticky rice stuffed chicken come with the side of incredible dip sauce (magic sauce + scallions + diced mushrroms and I think dried scallops)?

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/19644265...

        1 Reply
        1. re: K K

          Nope. (Or if so, I missed it!) I should always ask whether something comes with incredible dip sauce, just in case.

        2. The general standard was quite good, and it was an attractive spread, and well-paced. Everything was good, and a few got me really excited. Namely: the lobster/kabocha(=pumpkin) was delicious; the pumpkin had a perfect texture--slightly crispy outside, soft inside--and was very tasty--and I found myself scraping the batter off the lobster claws after eating the meat. (I think I enjoyed the batter more than the meat itself.) I quite liked the steamed bass--simple and tasty, with soy sauce (and ginger and maybe a few other things?). The stuffed chicken was crispy and moist and the rice inside was delicious; I'd make a point of ordering it in advance if returning.

          While those are the ones I'd go out of my way to get, many of the others had memorable aspects--the garlic cloves in the moss dish (a spectacular round layered mound) and the bits of orange peel in the dessert.

          1. I enjoyed the meal. My personal favorites were the stuffed chicken and the steamed striper. The chicken was just perfectly crispy. The bass was a simple dish, but cooked just right - not always easy to do with a thick fish. Yum.

            1. I had a great time dining with fellow chowhounds!
              My favorite dishes are 100 blossom crispy bacon rolls, crispy-skinned chicken, sautéed scallops and pea shoots with crab meat.
              The combination appetizer, fried rice and the red bean soup was just average.

              1. I was very impressed by the quality and quantity of the seafood.... no tiny oysters here! Big, fat, plump oysters, scallops and that gigantic lobster.... the bacon wrapped shrimp forcement was simply yummy but then anything wrapped in bacon and deep fried gets a big thumb up! Good company, good food, awesome chow down!

                P.S. No fortune cookies!

                1. A big thank you to Melanie for organizing the dinner. I had a great time and enjoyed trying yet another place I've not been to. I'm going to be taking my family to try the place as I found enough well-prepared dishes to make it worth the drive.

                  From the cold dish, I enjoyed the jellyfish with its strong sesame oil flavor (my favorite flavor for instant ramen or anything that looks like noodles, it seems), the char siu (so nicely not looking like it was swimming in FDC Red #5), and the tofu skins (great, subtle smoke taste that wasn't to the point of being bitter).

                  Like Jefferson, I found the bacon wrapped shrimp paste to be a novel preparation. Yum's used a good bacon that wasn't overwhelmingly salty. I tried it both with and without the mayo but I'd skip the mayo in the future -- anything with bacon is pretty good by itself in my book.

                  The veggies with scallops and preserved duck exceeded my expectations. The duck really brought the dish to life. Probably because it reminds me of bacon, I suppose. ;-)

                  Loved the rice-stuffed chicken. That looks like a lot of work to make since the meat is completely removed. Thanks for the substitution, Melanie! Not that I know what Yum's concubine chicken is like, but I can't imagine it beating this dish.

                  The kabocha with the lobster was perfect. I could eat a plate of that by itself, I think, but I'm glad I showed some restraint. There was more than enough to eat and I don't think anyone left the restaurant hungry.

                  The whole steamed striped bass was perfectly fresh, with no hint of old fish odor to it.

                  All in all an excellent time chowing down. Gong xi fa cai!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Peter Yee

                    I wasn't able to go, but it's only 15 min from my place so I get to pick the dishes that hounds like. Thank you!

                  2. Thanks to my fellow ‘hounds for rallying on short notice to try the Chinese New Year’s menu. I had lunch here on Monday, saw the menu card for the special seasonal dishes, and decided to go for it to close out the lunar year with a bang. KK and Cary, who could not attend, helped figure out the menu and offered their guidance. Vincent did us the favor of calling and speaking to the chef on Wednesday morning when it reopened to help nail down the details.

                    1. Combination appetizer: Seaweed salad, marinated jellyfish with daikon pickles, Japanese-style marinated baby octopi, mock roast goose, and char siu
                    Like Peter, I was happy to see the more natural color of the char siu. The thick slices of barbecued pork were well-marbled and not dry. I particularly liked the mock goose, served warm and freshly cooked instead of cooked several days ahead and served refrigerator cold. Nice smoky notes, light and moist texture, not greasy, and the core of diced black mushrooms in the core tasted of shaoxing rice wine.

                    2. Seafood & bamboo pith soup – Good job, not overly thickened, plenty of seafood and high quality, spongy bamboo pith. The flavors popped with an added sprinkle of white pepper at the table. And, our server ladled out the soup for us.

                    3. Fat choy (black moss) with dried oysters, dried scallops, roast pig, roasted garlic cloves, and lettuce – Quite impressive when the molded mound was presented at the table. Ten whole “gold coin” dried scallops layered on top, a ring of oysters rimming the bottom edge, and I wondered what was inside the middle of the enormous mass supporting it so sturdily. Not just lettuce filler, I prayed. The exploratory digging began and the excavation into the core revealed an infrastructure of cubes of fatty roast pig with still crackly skin and soft, caramelized cloves of roasted garlic on a bed of iceberg lettuce rendered pliant and juicy after poaching. Sweet! Coincidentally, the week before I’d visited my 92-year old Auntie Frances who showed me a pack of dried oysters she’d purchased for the new year celebration. They were the biggest, plumpest ones I’d seen and she explained that they were “sang ho see” or raw-type rather than the more common cooked ones that are a by-product of oyster sauce production. The ones we were served looked exactly the same. These oysters had a much milder flavor then others. Delectable dusky saucing and I liked how a multitude of textures and flavor components contrasted and united. Later Vincent confirmed with Chef Yum that these were “raw” dried oysters and told him how much most of our party liked this dish. When he expressed his surprise, Vincent explained that we were not typical “Americans” in our food tastes!

                    4. 100 blossoms crispy bacon rolls filled with shrimp forcemeat – This was the dish I was most interested in seeing, as I’d not heard of it before. “100 blossoms” could be a flowery name to sprout good fortune at the dawn of a new year or it could also refer to the shrimp paste filling, such as used with fried crab claws filled with the same. Maybe the clever poet in Chef Yum’s soul meant this both ways as a culinary play on words. No matter what the name means, this could live up to any moniker that denotes bacon satisfaction. Light, fluffy, tender mousse-like shrimp paste encased in thin strips of bacon, dusted and deep-fried, a great surf and turf combo that’s reminiscent of a quenelle but better because of the bacon element.

                    5. Sauteed scallops, oil duck (lop op), cloud ear fungi, snow peas, and celery – When I read this on the menu, I figured this to be a “filler” dish just to round out the offering. Instead, this was a lovely and light stir-fry with crisp veggies and fresh:preserved taste contrasts. More familiar with the use of preserved scallops as a flavoring agent, the role reversal of adding preserved duck to heighten the taste of fresh shellfish was novel to me and highly successful.

                    6. Crispy-skinned chicken stuffed with sticky rice ($20 surcharge to substitute for the concubine chicken on the set menu, 24-hour notice required) – Very different than the other sticky rice chickens I’ve had before. Not battered nor actually deep-fried, the skin was glassy and crackly from repeatedly pouring hot oil over the air-dried chicken. I found the filling a tad overcooked and too soft, preferring more chewiness, yet perfectly seasoned and quite delicious.

                    7. Crab meat, pea shoots and oyster mushrooms – This had a boatload of sweet and juicy big pieces of Dungeness crab meat in the egg white sauce. Big pea shoots were a little bit softer than what others might consider ideal but more to my own taste.

                    8. Clear steamed striped bass – Not only a very big and fresh fish, but masterfully cooked to exactly the right point of doneness. Thanks to Vincent and Jefferson for taking on the very critical de-boning task.

                    9. Lobster sauteed with golden egg yolk and kabocha – This dish plus the soup were the substitutes for the sharks fin component on the menu. I’d rather have this 2-pound lobster any day. It was interesting to contrast this with the Dungeness crab prepped the same way at Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco that I’ve had a number of times. Here the egg yolk seems both grittier and earthier/gamey in flavor, leading me to suspect that Chef Yum is using salted duck eggs rather than chicken eggs. When I reached for the first piece of lobster off the plate, I was surprised to find the battered batons underneath the sections of lobster. Grabbing one with my chopsticks, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Doesn’t this look like steak fry?” Lucky for us, these turned out to be pieces of kabocha pumpkin prepped with the same seasoning and deep-fried. The ala carte menu doesn’t mention the kabocha as part of the lobster dish and this might not be a regular part of it. Take heart though, the fried kabocha with egg yolk is on the special appetizer menu and can be ordered alone.

                    10. Fried rice with taro and lop mei – More than full by this point in the meal, I mostly played with and pushed around this food on my plate, admiring the masterful technique that went into it. Very thin and whispy egg omelet, perfect 90 degree angles on the tiny dice of taro as well as seared on all sides, fragrant wok hay, and I loved the dryish, non-greasy and individual grain of the rice. Just enough lop cheong to give flavor but not weigh it down.

                    11. Red bean soup with black sesame-filled mochi dumplings (tong yuen) and fresh lily bulbs – The filling was somewhat crystallized so had a gritty texture underneath the chewiness. The dried orange peel tones and moderate sweetness of the red beans against the more sugary bite of the dumplings gave this dessert more dimension.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      This is my first time going to event like this and I got to admit that I enjoyed it a lot. I like to try new restaurants. This kind of event, allow me to sample several dishes at the same time. I never been to Yum bistro and didn't even know about this place. After sampling some of their dishes, I might come back here with my friends for lunch or dinner. My personal favorites are the lobster sauted with golden egg yolk and kabocha, the fried rice with taro and crispy skinned chicken stuffed sticky rice. I had the dungeness crab sauted with golden egg yolk before but never tried it with lobster. With lobster it was less work to eat the meat and didn't make a lot of mess. My least favourite dish was the Fat choy with dried scallop. I never had black moss before and didn't like the texture of the moss. Maybe it's an acquire taste to like this dish.

                      1. re: Steve Gunawan

                        Good to meet you, Steve, and thanks for posting. Yum's Bistro got a mention by Janny Hu in the Chron's CNY banquet article, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article... . I imagine that the author read about it here, as Fremont is rarely on sfgate's dining radar.

                        When I made our reservation and started talking to Jason, a server at Yum's, about the menu, I asked for a substitute for the sharks fin soup included the CNY banquet. He understood me immediately and said, "many people don't eat sharks fin these days." This was a refreshing change from the pushback that i've gotten at some restaurants in the past. it's also a hopeful sign that Chinese restaurants are getting the message from customers and might be starting to change their ways. Chef Yum readily countered with the soup course and lobster course as a delicious substitute for the same price.

                        Website for Yum's Bistro
                        http://www.crusa.biz/yums/index.htm

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                        Yum's Bistro
                        4906 Paseo Padre Pkwy, Fremont, CA 94555