Rice noodles are the mainstay of Yun Nan Flavour Snack in Brooklyn's Chinatown. Their menu is a pared-down affair. For some reason, items one through six are left blank, so the menu actually begins with number seven, their cold-dressed rice noodles. The rest of the menu comprises mostly those same rice noodles in various soups.
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When the strips of fried pork belly first arrive at your table, the draw is immediate, animal. You dip a blistered corner into a little pile of ground spices, then pop them into your mouth in a steady stream, the fiery heat of red chilies slowly building up with each crisp, fatty bite. Fried mint leaves, translucent green and aromatic serve as a pause, freeing you to consider whether that's star anise, fennel, or perhaps a bit of both you taste in there with the cumin and Sichuan peppercorn.
Perhaps you might also stop and think to yourself, I'm eating a $10 Chinese appetizer from a region of China heretofore unknown in the airport food court, served on a clean white plate by a server (also white) who speaks polite English with a good barrel-drawn rosé on the side. What the heck's happened to Chinese food in New York?
Regional Chinese cuisine gets us excited. Regional Chinese cuisine inflected with Southeast Asian ingredients gets us even more excited. Two restaurants serving the fare of the Yunnan province appeared in New York earlier this year—each promising faithful representations of Yunnan cuisine, bright with herbs and fresh produce and clean flavors. We visited Lotus Blue in Tribeca, the first to open, and unfortunately found disappointment. We don't like ripping on restaurants; but we also don't like paying $40/head in food alone for a meal we're unhappy with. So let's talk about Lotus Blue in a constructive way.
A quick glance at Lotus Blue's menu reveals some of Yunnan's culinary signatures: heavy doses of herbs (think dressed up chrysanthemum salads), refreshing flavors (lemongrass grilled ribs and sea bass), and sweet surprises (imported Yunnan candied plums and olives). But if you are looking for a show-stopper, look no further than their Crisp-Fried Red Snapper ($25).