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Yumcha is closed for good. That was quick. (10/10/05)

I had an Australian email pal that would use the term yum cha instead of dim sum. New Yorkers (or Oregonians, for that matter) never say yum cha either. I always figured it was a regional thing like saying jye row for gyro (to pointlessly include Aussies again, they spell this sandwich yiro and eliminate all pronunciation confusion). But I've discovered that dim sum refers to the food while yum cha is the act of sitting down to tea and snacks. Of course none of this has anything to do with the newish Chinese-esque spot in the West Village.

My birthday tends to fall on the most painfully hot days of the year. Just making it from Carroll Gardens almost induced a heatstroke that even a chilly subway car couldn't curb (even on special occasions I rarely resort to taxis). This isn't the best state to be in while trying to maintain an air of moderate attractiveness. Because of this poor timing my drivers license photo is always a sweaty atrocity and I feel like a swarthy animal while trying to enjoy a relatively fine dining experience.

I tried to cool down with a green tea martini garnished with a cucumber slice. Strong and refreshing, and staved off the sometimes tough decision of what wine to order with Asian flavor. The list was surprisingly affordable, and I ultimately ended up choosing a gruner veltliner by the glass, which came in one of those trendy stemless Riedel numbers.

The clientele was easily divided into two camps: the middle aged with reservations and young happenstance couples who were seated at the bar. While another year older, and having booked ahead, I'd prefer not to be lumped in with the staid folks. We were bridging the gap, neither twenties nor forties (which yes, I realize isn't quite middle aged).

Despite the humid weather, I never go for light flavors. Instead, I went for the rich and meaty, so not suited for the close your eyes and pretend you're in S.E. Asia stickiness. But they're the ones that put pork belly and duck breast on a summer menu, so I was only doing my duty as a diner and ordering the offerings. The pork belly was shaved into slices, atop of a tangle of spicy-tart shredded cabbage and garnished with a delicate peppery tri-leaved green.

My entrée of sweet and sour duck breast was lightly striped with hoisin sauce, while postage stamp squares of jicama and fat cubes of papaya surrounded the poultry pieces and perhaps four or five cashews. Shanghai shoots, which I swear is just bok choy, also made an appearance. The top of the plate was reserved for a dramatic swirl of papaya puree. For some reason I'd imagined green papaya, not ripe sunshiny flavors, which verged a little too close to melon for comfort (one of my few personal food biases). I was picturing more tangy than sweet. We shared a side of egg topped fried rice, runny yolked, which didn't bother me, though James found it to be discomfortingly Filipino. Hardly, it's not like there was a duck embryo inside or anything.

For dessert we shared a green tea, white chocolate crème brule, which took an awfully long time to show up at our table. This tardiness was due to an unexplained "debacle," according to our waiter. One could only imagine.

It struck me while meandering down the street for a nightcap at Blue Mill Tavern that a disproportionate number of special occasion meals end up being in the West Village. In my daily life I never set foot on those aggravatingly angled streets. Off the top of my head, I can think of past excursions to Do Hwa (before I started pointlessly keeping track of where I ate), Annisa, Jefferson…ok now I'm completely drawing a blank. Kittichai, Spice Market, Megu (and Meigas when it still existed) merely border the West Village. Maybe I should just say we end up eating special occasion meals on the west side.

Yumcha * Bedford Ave., New York, NY

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  1. Chris #

    Shanghai shoots that looks like bak choy? Maybe they’re Shanghai bak choy? Shanghai bak choy, its stems are in light green. Whereas regular bak choy, the stems are white.

    December 11, 2008

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