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Sneakeater

Yuan

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Yuan is the latest inhabitant of the space on 2nd Avenue that previously housed Alder and then the Manhattan outpost of Biang! It specializes in mi fen, the rice noodles of Guilin in the Guangxi province.

The menu is strange. It has Cantonese dim sum (as you'll see, I had one -- and it was excellent [although it used an ingredient that, from the rest of the menu, seems characteristic of Guilin]). And it has stuff like General Tso's Chicken, which as far as I know originated in Manhattan. But it focuses on mi fen -- and the mi fen dish I had was amazingly good.

I would like to say that I started with a dim sum, sesame-encrusted purple yam pancakes. But in the event, this came out after my noodles. In any event, it was excellent: grease-free, flavorful. Purple yam is the ingredient I mentioned that seems to be native to Guilin, although this is a variant of a dish we're all familiar with.

But it was overshadowed by the rice noodle dish I had: "Classic" Guilin Mi Fen. This is a bowl of long thin rice noodles, fried pork belly, amazingly tender (and fatty!) brisket, toasted soy beans (I'd have thought they were peanuts if they didn't tell me), and pickled green beans. Oh, and cilantro: you couldn't forget that rather strong flavor accent if you wanted to. You could pay extra to get this with broth -- but (don't tell them) I'd pay extra to get it dry. This is one of those perfect dishes: the flavors all play off each other in a way that's both interesting and (more important) delicious. And everything is cooked just perfectly: the pork belly is fried just right, and that fatty beef is just amazing.

Things were going so well that I took a flier on dessert: a so-called "cheesy" chocolate bao, made with mozzarella and dark chocolate. It wasn't bad or anything. But I don't think it made the world a better place.

Maybe I ordered wrong at the other place, but I think this was notably better than Little Tang, a nearby noodle shop featuring the Mixian rice noodles of a neighboring province to Guangxi. Little Tang was cheffier. But -- this may not be unrelated -- the food at Yuan just seemed to me to be better: fuller flavored, less bland, more characterful. Just better.

It bothered me when Pete Wells gave Little Tang two stars. There, it seemed to me that he was rewarded pretentiousness. But Yuan, I could almost see it.

Almost.

Anyway, I'm giving Yuan my strongest recommendation. Just go. You'll thank me. (Just don't expect to eat much more than noodles.)

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