WESTMONT – If you are looking to continue your New Year’s celebrations, Feb. 8 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year and Yu’s Mandarin has the real feel, while serving up the real deal.
Anchoring a strip mall that features various Asian businesses, and located just north of Ogden Avenue on Pasquinelli Drive, Yu’s Mandarin is the second-generation descendant of the original Schaumburg establishment.
Opened in 1983 in Schaumburg, and home of the famous Noodle Show (Schaumburg only) on weekends, it was purchased by Sean and Pei Hong eight years ago. The Westmont location, overseen by GM Jeff, followed three years ago, and Vernon Hills will welcome location No. 3 sometime in the late spring.
Chef Chuchin Miao arrived from Taiwan bringing additional expertise to an already well-run kitchen. With chefs from areas throughout China and Taiwan, Yu’s is able to supplement the standard menu with specialties from each chef’s home regions, making it a favorite for our local Asian community.
And while Yu’s is a perfect destination to ring in the year of the Fire Monkey, its expansive and versatile menu is perfect for year-round dining.
The menu consists of multiple pages with many Chinese items geared for the American palate, a “by request” Chinese menu featuring much more exotic fare (think intestines, chicken feet, kidneys, etc.), as well as several items devoted to Chinese specials favored by the Korean population.
First-time diners may opt to tame the wide variety by selecting the Mandarin Dinner, which, at $18.50 per person, allows for a soup or salad, appetizer and an entrée choice from eight selections. Yu’s also has full bar service available.
We began our meal with perfectly steamed Crabmeat Shu Mai, served in the traditional steaming basket, along with an order of Fried Pot Stickers. The Shu Mai are bite-sized pillows of flavor stuffed with crab and then gently steamed, providing a soft, rich taste.
Conversely, the pot stickers feature a meat and vegetable filling wrapped in pastry dough and pan fried, forming a crispy exterior shell. Both of these starters came with dipping sauces and were literally gone in seconds!
Several traditional soups are available – with the Egg Flower Soup being my favorite. A light shrimp broth forms the base, and after the addition of tofu, veggies and a creamy egg mixture, the soup takes on a rich, velvety appearance and consistency. Yu’s Hot & Sour Soup – with a darker, spicy chicken broth base infused with pork, black mushrooms, bamboo shoots and tofu – is particularly welcome on a cold winter day.
The menu is divided into several sections: poultry, seafood, noodles, etc., as well as fresh lobster, whole crab and various fish – all waiting patiently in three large fish tanks. The menu still allows for customization of both ingredients and heat levels ranging from none to brow-watering.
Kung Pao Chicken is a Chinese staple, and Yu’s did not disappoint. Moist chicken is combined with red and green peppers, water chestnuts, celery and the dish’s signature red chilies, and then stir fried in a hot bean sauce. The dish is plated and topped with peanuts just before presentation.
Shrimp with Lobster Sauce is another Chinese staple, and mixes shrimp and scallops in a light egg white sauce. The dish also features water chestnuts, peas, carrots and mushrooms, and is as pleasing and subtle a dish as you will find. With a spice level of zero, this is also a great dish for first-time diners.
A toothsome dish is the Noodle Platter, which combines house-made noodles with pork, shrimp, scallops and a few veggies to keep it on the New Year’s resolution diet page. It has a lasting spicy kick, and was a table favorite.
Another enjoyable noodle dish is the Beef with Flat Rice Noodle. The rice noodles are rolled out in large sheets, cut into wide strips and pan fried to char the edges and create a crispy texture. It also incorporates bamboo shoots and yellow chives. Yellow chives reside in the garlic family, which provides an indicator of the flavor, and are covered during part of the growth phase preventing the plant from attaining its customary green color. The flavor is much more subtle than the green chive, and works well in this dish.
As a vegetable side dish, we enjoyed the Szechwan Eggplant, which features the smaller Asian eggplant. After cubing, the eggplant is lightly battered and flash fried, preventing the interior from becoming an oil sponge. The accompanying sauce combines soy, garlic, sugar and hot ginger for the outstanding dish. It’s sweet, lightly spicy, crunchy, buttery soft … just a great combination.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Mei Cai Roasted Pork. As our waiter happily explained, “It’s Chinese bacon!” Now we’re talking! Pork belly is first marinated and then fried. It is sliced to order and steamed, completing the three-step preparation process. The surrounding sauce is made by combining preserved vegetables that are dried and finely chopped, along with Chinese mustard and marinated pork juices. The Mei Cai Pork is served with pillowy soft Asian buns, allowing the diner to create a version of a Far Eastern slider.
Desserts are simple and straightforward. There are no dessert tray presentations or flaming tableside theater. We choose Lychee Fruit, which originates in China. It’s a walnut- to golf-ball-sized fruit, and after peeling, its large seed core is removed. The remaining fruit is a whitish, translucent layer of sweet tasting fruit similar in thickness to a few layers of an onion. It is served in a slightly sweet syrup over an ice bath, and provided a cool, refreshing, and slightly sweet ending to our meal.
We also tried the traditionally named Eight Ingredients Sweet Rice, which simply features sticky sweet rice enveloping red bean paste. If is often topped with a sprinkle of dried fruits, and ours had raisins.
Guests peeking through the Chinese cutouts on the kitchen’s glass wall will find a spotless and large-scale kitchen. It’s also a great place to view the magic that happens within, with several chefs in action simultaneously. The interior is well-spaced and comfortable, providing a relaxing dining experience in a quiet setting.
Yu’s has evolved into a neighborhood favorite, becoming popular, in part, due to its diversity. Available catering, a media-equipped banquet room and an in-depth and varied menu allow it to attract patrons for lunch, dinner, catering, carry-out and meetings.
But it is clearly the fresh ingredients, the classic preparations, and the tastes and flavors that allow diners from all woks of life to savor this gem. While it’s New Year’s week, this one should be enjoyed all year!
Where: 665 Pasquinelli Drive, Westmont
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Dress code: Casual
Contact: 630-325-7800, www.yusrestaurant.com
Noise factor: Medium buzz