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Yunnan Kitchen - 79 Clinton St.

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I don't know what's happening (well yeah, I guess I do), but all of a sudden the lower east side has become a pretty darn good place for reasonably priced meals with an Asian slant. Or, to put it another way, there are now some very good places to get almost Chinese food that aren't the usual slop houses found on every block.

Of course, there's MCFNY. And there's also Yunnan Kitchen, which opened practically concurrently. I finally got around to checking out YK the other night; it was only me, and I was only able to sample 3 dishes, but I'll be back.

First off, it's nice to walk into an ostensibly Chinese restaurant and be greeted warmly and professionally. I grabbed a seat at the bar, water was offered and I had a beer within a minute or two. For now, drinks are limited to wine and beer, but they have a number of beers on draught as well as 3 wines by the glass which are from the Gotham Project, offering good wines out of refillable stainless steel kegs.

I really enjoyed 2 out of the 3 dishes I ordered. Where my mint and frisee with cherry tomatoes was merely kind of blah, the lamb meatball skewers were great. 6 pretty good sized lamb balls (3 per skewer), luscious and fatty and sprinkled liberally with ground cumin.

I also enjoyed, as has everyone else who has sampled them, the fried potato balls - these showcased a perfect hand at the fryer, immediately made me think of tater tots, yet were so much better. And who'd have thought that dunking fried mashed potato balls into a soy based dip (served alongside) would make them even better?

The chef, Travis Post, comes here via Franny's and Brooklyn Larder, and along with co-owner Erika Chou, they aim to bring to the lower east side a cuisine from an area of China not often served in restaurants in my neighborhood. Whether it's traditional or not is besides the point. After only a small sampling, I like their interpretation of it, and look forward to a number of good meals here.

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A return visit, with Significant Eater in tow, and we weren't disappointed. Once again, from the welcome, to the wines on tap from Gotham Project (including a nice NY State riesling that, imo, pairs perfectly with this style of food), Yunnan is a great addition to Clinton St. and the neighborhood in general.

Since she hadn't been yet, a couple of things I liked were ordered again. So we had the fried potato balls...

2012_07 Yunna fried potato balls.jpg

And the lamb meatballs on skewers...

2012_07 Yunnan lamb balls.jpg

There was a delicious special, called Mala Chicken wings, which were actually two wings and two drumsticks coated in what I believe was Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, salt and something else. These were our favorite dish of the night...

2012_07 Yunnan chicken wings.jpg

To finish, we had a rice cake dish which was okay, but made me long for the rice cake preparations at Momo. 3 out of 4 isn't bad, though...and we'll keep going back to try the rest of the menu. Also, the prices are pretty gently for the food. I think the 4 dishes we had were no more than $40 (of course, we had a carafe or two of wine and some beers, which basically doubled the bill).

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