Spice, Fruit, and Flowers: An Introduction to Yunnan

For many New York hounds, the culinary map of China just got a bit bigger. Month-old Lotus Blue brings us a rarity: the food of Yunnan, the country's most southwestern province. While its take on the cuisine is not strictly traditional—the owners say they've adapted Yunnanese dishes "for modern palates"—its menu offers some regional classics, including steam pot chicken. Cheeryvisage, who was sold from the moment the server lifted the lid, releasing an irresistible aroma, found it "absolutely wonderful! We adored the umami-licious chicken broth and practically inhaled it. The chicken itself was stewed to falling-apart perfection."

Another Yunnan standard is Cross-Bridge Noodles, reminiscent of hot pot. gbevan and her husband ordered it with fish and received a bowl of noodles, to which their server added a fragrant broth and raw quail egg. Sliced cod, vegetables, herbs, and flower petals came on the side, to be dipped into the hot soup. "Luscious, light, yummy," she says. Other early favorites are fried rice with ground pork and pickled turnip; earthy, chewy multigrain rice with shiitakes and bamboo; steamed pork belly with a complex sauce of candied plum with a hint of star anise; and crisp-fried red snapper with a piquant sweet/sour/hot sauce ("just the right hint of vinegar and a hint of heat," says erica).

Yunnan borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam, so not surprisingly its food leans toward Southeast Asia. A salad of mango and banana blossom—flavored with sweet-and-sour plum dressing, mint, basil, cilantro, and chiles—reminds erica of similar dishes encountered on trips to Thailand and Laos. To foodwhisperer, stir-fried tiger prawns with candied Chinese olives bring to mind Vietnamese-style chile shrimp; gbevan says they're "spicy, a tiny bit sweet, and absolutely delicious." For dessert, hounds suggest creamy coconut-tapioca pudding (served with a ring of rose petal syrup) or sesame pumpkin pancakes with an alluring mix of flavors including sesame, coriander, and cassia.

Lotus Blue claims to be New York City's only Yunnan restaurant, which isn't quite true. For five years, Chowhounds have been enjoying spicy rice noodles and other robust regional fare at Yun Nan Flavour Snack Shop in Brooklyn. But the newcomer, which succeeds the Vietnamese restaurant Nam, is staking out more upmarket turf, expanding its bar area and concocting specialty cocktails of spirits infused with Asian ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, and pu-erh tea. gbevan recommends the Peppercorn Blossom (Sichuan peppercorn–infused gin, Campari, vermouth), which she calls nicely spicy and not sweet.

Lotus Blue [Tribeca]
110 Reade Street (between West Broadway and Church Street), Manhattan
212-267-3777

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