Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - January 7, 2011

Plenty to savor

Huge selection, generous portions and modest prices at Cafe Yulong

by Ruth Schechter

With the zillions of Chinese restaurants on the Peninsula, how do you go about finding the place that makes the mark? When your criteria include huge portions of traditional Mandarin and Szechuan dishes at very reasonable prices, you might want to put Cafe Yulong on your list.

Located just off Castro Street, the 9-year-old restaurant is basic and casual, with a large fish tank at one side and an entryway divider of greenery at the door. About 15 tables fill the open dining room, and a counter toward the back of the room remains busy with people ordering takeout meals. All menu items are available to go.

A big selling point is how affordable the meals are, particularly in light of the generous portions. Most dinner entrees cost less than $10, and in most cases you get enough food for at least two meals.

Cafe Yulong has a very impressive menu with pages and pages of traditional dishes organized by main ingredients. There's a fowl section, with such established favorites as Kung Pao chicken and General Tso's chicken, as well as some more unusual offerings like vinegar chicken, fermented black bean chicken and tea-smoked duck. There's a vegetable section, with fresh spinach and garlic, sweet and sour tofu, and spicy garlic eggplant. And there are long listings for seafood, noodles, soups, dumplings, appetizers and pork.

Pay attention to the entrees marked with a pepper. These dishes are spicy, and the restaurant isn't kidding about the heat. Our servers were quite diligent about asking us about the level of intensity we could handle, and medium was about our limit.

After sipping tea and sampling the complimentary kimchi, we started our dinner with spring rolls ($5.95 for four) and crab Rangoon ($5.95 for eight). The rolls were crisp, delicate and flaky, and the minced cabbage, mushrooms and celery were a wonderful contrast to the deep-fried wrappers. The deep-fried turnovers seemed to be lacking crab, although the cream cheese encased in crunchy pastry had a nice textural balance.

Do try one of the mu shu entrees, which come with beef, pork, chicken, shrimp or lamb ($8.95-$11.95). Our shredded pork was mixed with scrambled eggs, mushrooms, scallions and cabbage in a soy-and-hoisin sauce mixture, which we then rolled up in thin steamed pancakes. This was one of our favorite dishes: tasty, refined and well balanced.

We also savored the Yulong shrimp ($11.95), a house specialty of stir-fried shrimp in a tangy tomato-based sauce. Another winner was the clay pot ma por tofu, a steaming bowl of minced tofu blended with cabbage, mushrooms and spices. This dish was too zippy for my dinner companions, which left all the more for me to enjoy over a mound of well-made brown rice.

The lunch menu is also extensive, with dozens of traditional dishes served with steamed rice, egg roll and a small bowl of soup ($7.95-$9.95). An enormous bowl of chicken and black mushroom noodle soup ($7.95) needed a good dose of tabletop soy sauce and chili to give it some bite, but the house-made noodles were a delight. A weekend brunch special ($10), with two plain buns, a bowl of porridge and a hot-dish selection of calamari, however, was beige and innocuous. The brunch has been temporarily discontinued since our visit in late October.

Service throughout was exemplary. The restaurant remains a family affair, run by James and Miya Pei (and helped out by their sons), and the personal touch shows in their welcome attentiveness to their patrons. Servers were friendly and prompt, and stopped by often to see how we were doing. Dishes were staggered so that everything didn't arrive at the table at once, and water glasses and teacups were filled constantly and unobtrusively.

Although Cafe Yulong is not the first place you'd pick for special occasions or a romantic night out, it will certainly hit the spot when you are in the mood for Chinese and want a lot of variety without denting your wallet.

Cafe Yulong

743 W. Dana St., Mountain View.

650-960-1677

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