Jan 17, 2008

St Petersburg Times - 1/17/08

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

China Yuan was always good, its burnished-skinned ducks practically flying out of their glass case and onto plates of the eager and the lucky. But the dining room was punitively bright, bare-bones, a little cold and a lot cramped: like a small elementary school cafeteria, but one that serves insanely good Chinese food.

All that changed Nov. 18 when the doors reopened after an expansion and major remodeling. The new space is airy, fronted by a bank of windows and populated by generous round tables suitable for big parties. There's nice art (a painting of very buff horses thundering along somewhere exotic) and about the cleanest bathrooms in all of Tampa.

You're not coming for the bathrooms, though. You're eager for the salt and pepper calamari ($8.99), crisply fried but tender squidded. An array of dim sum, not cart service, brings delicate shrimp har gow and cup-shaped meat siu mai, roast pork buns (like meat-filled doughnuts, what's not to like?) and flaky fried chive dumplings. A major carb-load best mitigated with an order of spicy eggplant with garlic ($7.95) or sauteed pea sprouts ($7.95).

I wondered when Yuan would wise up - such lush food clearly deserves its swanky new setting.

-- Laura Reiley, Times food critic