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A bite of Zhejiang

Date: 2012-08-27

Yan Ming Yuan's signature dishes include shrimp with Dragon Well tea (above) and a bowl of freshly sauteed peas (below). Photos by Jiang Dong / China Daily

Chefs, too, need to do their homework to keep up to date. And as Ye Jun reports, some even go on excursions to learn more about ingredients and food trends in regional cuisine.

Yan Ming Yuan is just outside the east gate of the venerable Tsinghua University in Beijing, and it, too, has a culture of learning among its staff. Just recently, the restaurant planned an educational trip to Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces for its chefs and service staff.

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Long Feng, general manager of Yan Ming Yuan, says the restaurant organizes such tours every year, and this year the rewards of the trip were plenty, with the chefs putting their new-found knowledge of local ingredients and flavors into the restaurant's menu.

The new seasonal menu is named "A Bite of Zhejiang", a reference to the cult food documentary, A Bite of China, which so recently stirred up renewed interest in regional cuisines.

Yan Ming Yuan has a map of Zhejiang province on its promotional brochure with pictures of signature dishes pointing to each major gourmet region.

Hangzhou, the capital, has shrimp with Dragon Well tea, and braised pork with dried bamboo shoots. Jinhua, a city in central Zhejiang, has braised sweet potato with cheese and chicken with rice wine. Ningbo is represented by a steamed salted yellow croaker with salt pork and green soy beans. Shaoxing is known for red-cooked pork with preserved vegetable.

The gourmet map will certainly tempt diners, who already have a wide variety of choices from the restaurant's thick menu. The proof of the eatery's popularity can be seen at lunch or dinner - there are seldom spare tables to be had without prior reservations.

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Wudaokou has many universities, and Yan Ming Yuan depends on the campus communities for most of its patronage. In fact, the only relatively low seasons in the year are when the universities have their annual breaks, according to Long.

Food quality, decor and service can generally get seven points out of 10, not perfect but good enough.

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For appetizers, there is a bean with bird-beak clam. Although the bean is nicely fresh, the fishy smell of the clam is a bit too strong. Another cold appetizer of a marinated trio of flavorful bean curd, duck giblets and pork chitterling is more palatable.

The shrimp served with Dragon Well tea is fresh, but I find the rice wine used for flavoring is too overpowering and covers up the sweetness of seafood. Roast beef, boned, with a proper black pepper sauce is really good.

The steamed salted yellow croaker from the East China Sea is very tender, although it will go better with a bowl of white rice as it gets too salty if eaten on its own.

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Also recommended is the eight-treasure soup, a healthy mixture of bamboo fungus, meat balls, egg dumplings, black fungus and cabbage. The freshly sauteed peas and the golden millet cake will also not disappoint a fussy diner.

For those with a lighter palate, the food here may be a little too strongly flavored, and you may want a pot of tea to clean your palate. But generally, Yan Ming Yuan is one of the better choices for an occasional treat for some regional Zhejiang and Jiangsu dishes.

After all, they have done their homework.