A chef's special appetizer of grilled salmon with scallops… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
Every neighborhood in Baltimore seems to have at least one reliable spot for good Chinese food.
But with its central location at Charles and 25th streets, and its hard-to-miss yellow-and-red signs, Yum's Asian Bistro feels like it belongs to the city as a whole — not just Lower Charles Village. And that's lucky for the city, considering the kitchen's proficiency with Chinese-American favorites, decent service and downright glamorous interior.
Yum's chef and owner, Jerry Chen, trained in Hong Kong and previously owned sit-down Chinese restaurants in Washington and Charles County. He opened Yum's in January after an extensive interior renovation of the space occupied by New No Da Ji for many years. The new space is dramatic, with dark walls of glass and granite tile, polished wood tables, elaborate Asian art and a grand, sparkly chandelier.
In fact, Yum's decor is so fantastic that it's almost a surprise that the menu is so traditional. It's comprehensive, to be sure, and covers all the typical Chinese-American and Japanese bases, with a few additional Asian dishes thrown in (like Pad Thai). But it doesn't venture out into any new territory.
When we arrived around 7 on a recent Thursday evening, only a few booths were filled and both the sushi and regular bars were empty. Conversations were hushed and the restaurant was mostly quiet, except for the distracting sound of the bar TV, tuned to CNN. Yum's stayed sparsely populated during our dinner, though a steady stream of customers stopped in to pick up carryout orders.
Yum's beer list is impressively multinational, though during our visit, the bar wasn't stocked with a few of the choices. We settled on a Sapporo beer (22-ounce for $7.75 or 12-ounce for $4.75) and a Mai Tai ($8), which got us in a tropical mood with its pretty red color and fruity — but not too boozy — flavor.
We started with a spicy tuna roll ($5.50), which arrived with lightning speed — even before our drinks. The finely chopped fish tasted fresh and the roll had great texture, with sticky rice and a touch of crunch, but it was on the mild side — we prefer our spicy tuna spicier.
The pu pu platter ($10.35), the Chinese-American ode to the fryer, was big enough for a few people to share and, served with artfully arranged dishes of duck sauce, hot mustard and sweet-and-sour sauce, was very pretty. We were pleasantly surprised by the spring roll's light and crispy wrapper and crunchy, fresh veggies.
Though the shrimp toast was more heavily fried, its airy texture and sweet shrimp flavor made it a hit. Meaty ribs were doused in a glaze that was a touch heavy, but sweet and tasty. Though the crab Rangoon filling was more cream cheese than crab, it satisfied.
The wings were on the small side, but crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The beef teriyaki skewers, tough and leathery and without much teriyaki flavor, were the only disagreeable part of the platter. As a whole, the pu pu platter wasn't perfect, but it was mostly enjoyable.
Yum's kitchen does a good job with pacing — the pu pu platter arrived, hot, just when we finished the sushi. After we polished off the platter, we had a few (much appreciated) minutes to rest before the entrees arrived. The service was friendly, too, though not always accessible — at one point, we had to flag down a waitress for new drinks.
Entrees at Yum's are big enough for two to share and, fortunately, make great leftovers. At dinner, we thought the jumbo lump crab meat fried rice ($16.95), one of the menu's more creative-sounding dishes, was interesting and fresh, but in need of a few more shakes of the Old Bay can. Overnight, however, its flavors gelled. By lunchtime the next day, the savory flavor of the rice was amped up just enough to balance the sweet and plentiful chunks of crab.
The Singapore-style rice noodles ($9.25), on the other hand, hit all the right spots at dinner. They were long gone by lunch the next day. Chicken, shrimp and pork added heft to noodles dressed in a sauce of mild curry. Each bite finished with lingering heat that enhanced the flavor without overpowering it. We scooped up every drop.
Dessert — a tempura-fried banana topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate ($4.95) — was less of a success. The under-ripe banana lacked flavor and the light tempura coating didn't add quite enough crunch.
Dinner ended on a sweet note, though, with juicy orange wedges and fortune cookies (our fortune: "Your observations are useful to others") delivered with our leftovers-stuffed take-home containers. A fitting end, we thought, for a meal of satisfying, old-school Chinese-American fare served in sophisticated, decidedly new-school surroundings.
Yum's Asian Bistro
Back story: Yum's Asian Bistro is a new Charles Village spot serving Chinese-American favorites in dramatic surroundings.
Parking: On-street parking available.
Signature dish: We scooped up every bit of the Singapore-style rice noodles, which had chicken, shrimp, pork and noodles dressed in a sauce of mild curry.
Where: 2501 N. Charles St., Baltimore
Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]