One of the first T.V. cooking shows I watched as a little kid was “Yan Can Cook” featuring the gregarious Chef Martin Yan. Maybe because he reminded me of an uncle, I watched as he diced and chopped his way around the kitchen to make hearty Chinese dishes that were both familiar and exotic.
Through the years, Yan’s popularity grew beyond his public television programs and into cookbooks and speaking engagements. Recently, he’s focused on opening restaurants bearing his name, and the grandest to date is the elegant M.Y. China under the dome of the Westfield San Francisco Centre.
Opened last month, the mall restaurant has been buzzing with curious diners and Yan fans who drop in hoping to get a glimpse of Chef Yan. While during these early days Yan can be seen greeting guests, he’s not behind the stove. Instead, Yan has gathered a team that includes brothers Ronny and Willy Ng (the team behind the uber popular Koi Palace in Daly City) and Yong Dong “Tony” Wu, who leads the bustling kitchen as executive chef.
I visited the restaurant, once for lunch with my friend Sylvia and another time for dinner, sitting by myself at the counter facing the wok stations (don’t worry, there’s a glass wall keeping you safe from the flames).
The menu isn’t very different between lunch and dinner (just a few dishes swapping in and out), broken into the following sections: dim sum (the small bites popular for brunch), small eats (appetizers), soup and salad, noodles, wok (most of the entrees are in this section), roasted (Chinese BBQ plates) and sweets.
The items are a mix of the traditional Chinese dishes (such as shiu mai and pork buns) to Americanized Chinese favorites (think Kung Pao chicken and honey-glazed walnut shrimp) to newly interpreted dishes like wild boar scissor cut noodles and mu shu pork tacos.
Some of the more exciting dishes actually came from the new creations. The mu shu pork tacos ($9) was a favorite between Sylvia and me. The boldly flavored mu shu pork worked nicely with the fresh tacos. My dinner order of honey glazed lamb chops ($24) were beautifully plated and the honey-glazed chops glistened with just the right balance of sweet and heat, the lamb cooked perfectly in a dry-roasted texture.
I also enjoyed the tea-smoked pork belly sliders ($8) even though Sylvia wasn’t a fan of the fatty nature of the pork belly. Eaten by itself, I agree that the pork belly slice was a bit too fatty, but mixed in with the pickled daikon and cilantro in the bun, I thought it was a great combination.
There were some misses. For example, the wild boar scissor cut noodles ($14) sounded promising, but the stir-fried noodles were too salty, with a prominent soy sauce masking the otherwise well-done hand-made noodles. (One of the restaurant’s highlights is watching a noodle expert hand pull fresh noodles all day.) A multi-grain rice wrapped in lotus leaf ($6) is a healthy twist to the popular sticky chicken rice dish, but it lacked a bit of flavor and panache.
Macau egg tarts ($3) were good but nothing special, and the sugar egg puffs ($4) were drenched with sugar. Still, I did enjoy the three dipping sauces that came with the egg puffs (which is basically Chinese doughnuts).
Side note: M.Y. China may be one of the few dim sum spots in the city that takes reservations, even for small parties of two. I don’t know if too many people realize this given the line at the door, but I found it convenient to make dim sum reservations and not have to deal with the wait.
Yan has taken a smart approach to his Chinese restaurant in a shopping mall. Knowing his audience will be mixed, he’s provided some classic Chinese dishes but in a westernized setting, including a popular bar that features a 1,800-pound bell. When the place starts serving dinner at 5:30 p.m., there’s a line of people already waiting to get in, including a few Chinese families curious about what Yan can cook.
This is the type of place that I would bring my Mom because she’s a huge fan of Yan (more so than me) but she’d probably spend the evening complaining about how expensive the dishes are given the amount of food served. Still, I believe she’d leave happy with the flavors and overall experience.
M.Y. China, 845 Market St., 4th Floor (inside the Westfield San Francisco Centre), San Francisco. PH: 415.580.3001. Open Sun.–Thu., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m.) Reservations, major credit cards accepted. mychinasf.com
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