Yuen Yuen's storefront resembles a regular Chinese dessert shop, and it's easy to be fooled; the lady standing in the takeout window was handing over a bowl of an iced drink to a customer, and asked if we want fresh drinks as well when we passed by. But there's quite the restaurant inside. They serve an overwhelmingly extensive menu with over 100 kinds of rice and noodle dishes, from casserole rice and fried rice to chow mei fun and pan fried noodles. (As we were unable to decide, the waiter saved us time by recommending some of their most popular rice dishes.)
The Sliced Chicken with Eggplant Rice ($4.50) can be cooked in either fermented bean curd ("furu") sauce or regular brown sauce. We love how the eggplant, or "oil sponge" as Erin prefers to call it, soaks up all the oil and sauce, acquiring a rich, meaty flavor; in addition to a few slices of bell peppers, onions, and black ear mushrooms tossed in, the dish has a fairly generous portion of chicken breast pieces that are surprisingly tender.
Although we were told that Fish with Ginger and Scallion Rice ($4.50) requires a longer waiting time as the fish needs to be steamed right away, the waiter insisted on recommending it because it's his favorite. With some fine shreds of scallion and ginger strewn over the top, the fish fillet is cooked just right and tastes fresh and gingery without any fishy odor. The fermented salty soybean ("douchi") enhanced the dish with a complex savory aftertaste. For the first time, we had no rice left over because the sauce sinks through the white rice and imbues it with flavor. (Delicious as the fish is, be very careful of the bones, which deterred some of us from eating more of it.)
We did end up wanting dessert, and opted for Yuen Yuen's homemade glutinous ball soup ($3.50), or tangyuan, with a sesame filling. Although the filling was satisfyingly sweet and toasty, we wish the rice ball were chewier and a bit smaller—they fill you up quickly.
Yuen Yuen Restaurant
61 Bayard Street, New York NY 10079 (map) 212-406-2100