Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Review of Yummy House Restaurant in Tampa

A review of Yummy House Restaurant in Tampa
By: Chef Cristian Feher

I grew up eating sublime Chinese food in Toronto, where one of the world's largest communities of Asians comprises a large portion of the population. Quite simply, I ate like an emperor. Daily, and cheaply.

Second-best to actually eating in China, Toronto's Chinese restaurants can very well serve as a benchmark to compare all other satellite restaurants around the world. The same could be said for Chinese restaurants in New York, San Francisco, Montreal and Vancouver, but I can't imagine anything better than the Chinese restaurant scene in Toronto.

It was with a heavy-stomach that I left Toronto behind when i moved to Tampa Bay a few years back. The one thing I missed most was my beloved Chinese food, and to my disappointment, Tampa Bay had none by definition. It was, until now, a sad excuse of sweet and sour chicken balls, drive-thru McChinese crap, and bottom-of-the-barrel Chinese buffets catering to a crowd that thinks real Chinese food is deep fried chicken covered in high fructose corn syrup and food coloring, reheated five times, and served with Uncle Ben's parboiled rice and frozen peas with a fortune cookie printed in New Jersey. It was a dismal scene, and I soon learned to forget that part of my past. Out of sight, out of mind, I thought.

Several people had mentioned a place called Yummy House. They told me it was the only real Chinese restaurant in Tampa. I had been reluctant to try it, as I did not want to get my hopes up and have my heart broken again. So I took their advice and put it on the back burner, yearning instead for a day where I would once again be reunited with my beloved Chinese food.

I spent the last week of 2011 in Toronto with my wife and kid on vacation. Needless to say, I had a six day torrid affair with Toronto's Asian restaurants. I ate like a hobbit - two lunches and two dinners daily. I had it in the back alleys of Chinatown, late at night, in hotel rooms and even on the Subway. I spent the week jacked up on sublime sauces, scrumptious dumplings, glistening noodles, decadent soups and meats bursting with flavor. Upon my return to Tampa Bay I crashed like a wounded fighter plane, and I needed a fix. But where was I to get it? I dug through my e-mails, and yes, there it was! Yummy House. I had to go to Yummy House, it was my only hope of smiling again. And so I decided to take a leap of faith and tempt my heart in Tampa.

The following is my honest review of Yummy House on Waters avenue in Tampa.

Two things stuck out to me right off the bat before I even entered the restaurant. The parking lot was completely packed, and the place looked like crap - Two excellent signs of a good Chinese restaurant. My spirits began to lift.

The inside of the place was a whirlwind of motion and sound. It was busy, loud, and people could be seen eagerly devouring their meals. My wife and I waited for a few minutes before we were sat at a simple table, with two plates and a fork. "I like this." I said to Kim, "This reminds me of Toronto. The roof panels caving in, dirty floors, jammed tables and the servers moving a hundred miles per hour. This is going to be good."

We did not hold back. I ordered several items, and despite the servers questioning looks, I managed to snap a few photos for this review.

Salt and Pepper Calamari

The first dish to reach our table, was clearly their most popular dish, as plates of fried squid made their way to virtually every table.

The salt and pepper calamari was delicious. The crispy and sweet crust, comprised mostly of corn starch and MSG was really tasty, and I really enjoyed the hot chili flakes and chopped coriander. It was fresh and flavorful.

The only thing that would have made it better would have been a side of lemon, vinegar and smoked or spicy salt, as is usual in other Chinese restaurants. But despite the lack of side condiments, we were very pleased with this dish.

Hong Kong Won Ton Soup

The Hong Kong Won Ton Soup followed the salt and pepper calamari. It had a certain charm. Although the stock was made from bullion and MSG, and was unusually but pleasantly smoky, it was good.

I always enjoy fresh, crunchy bok-choi and the won-ton dumplings, although not nearly as flavorful as they should have been, earned points for having a paper-thin, velvety wrapper that melted in your mouth.

At this point my expectations for perfect Chinese food were not met, but I was still enjoying the meal more than I ever thought possible in Tampa.

Hong Kong Roast Duck

I once drove a Toyota Celica that looked like a space-racer, only to find that it was a slightly fortified go-kart underneath a flashy exterior. Looks can be deceiving - and disappointing. And so it was with the Hong Kong Roast Duck.

It was served luke warm, which is still OK with me, but the taste was just not there. A duck is surrounded by a layer of fat, that if cooked right, can be infused with a tonne of flavor, but Yummy House rushed it and ended up with a duck that looked like Bon-Jovi, but tasted like William Hung.

Although I will admit that it's sitting in the darkness of my fridge at this very minute, awaiting its tragic fate at 4am.

Orange Chicken

The orange chicken was an unplanned accident. My wife had pointed to the table next to us to a luscious plate of chicken with pineapple and green pepper (yes, I'm against sweet and sour, but my wife loves it) however, the server accidentally brought us this meek orange chicken, which, aside from it's just-got-out-of-bed-couldn't-find-anything-to-wear-look, tasted to me like orange Tang sprinkled on deep-fried chicken.

By this course, I hung on to the won ton soup and squid hoping this chicken dish wouldn't be an omen to the rest of the meal. We only had one more course to go - the tie breaker.

Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodle

If there is one dish that could save your dining experience in a situation like this, it's what I like to call Cantonese Chow-Mein. The only problem is that I have yet to ask for "Cantonese Chow-Mein" at an Asian restaurant in Florida without getting a puzzled look and a, "Huh?".

Armed with my photographic memory, I scanned their menu looking for a description that would fit my needs, and lo' and behold, there it was! Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodles.

Was it a perfect rendition of my favorite dish? Almost. They got the noodles just right. They got the toppings of pork, chicken, squid, shrimp and scallop just right, but they missed on the sauce - which was just the won-ton soup, with a sprinkling of MSG, thickened with corn starch. But don't get me wrong. I enjoyed it very much and it saved this review.

Upon stuffing myself with pan fried noodles and calamari, I asked myself if Yummy House could compete in Toronto, Montreal or New York. The answer was, no. But I will say, that like the only girl at the dance, I can get passed her slight blemishes, ugly hair and glasses, and can say happily that I will most definitely be dancing with her again. Yummy house is good. And it's light years ahead of any other so-called Chinese restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.

I can guarantee you that as long as I live in Tampa Bay, the owners of Yummy House will continue to drive around in luxury cars. It's not the love I left back in Toronto, but she's a good dancer, and she makes really good squid!

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