BY MARY D. SCOURTES
Tampa Tribune - Tampa, Fla.
TAMPA - With ducks hanging and chickens swinging in its glass case, China Yuan Restaurant is authentic Chinese.
It's not like taking a trip to Chinatown, it's more like visiting China. Duck wings, beaks and feet are offered here, too.
No passport is required at this eatery, located in the corner of a strip shopping center on north Armenia Avenue.
Just bring a sense of adventure. Our wimpy tasters, who initially were less than enthused about their visit, left pleased.
One slight problem is that you don't know much about your food until it arrives, because the menu lacks descriptive explanations. "Fish Fillet with Vegetable" or "Buddha Delight" doesn't give you much to go on, so you might order something you don't like. Especially since there can be a language barrier when talking to servers.
Manager Peter Chan says customers flock here for the duck. Chefs Jian Su and Yuan Chan roast about 15 to 20 ducks on weekdays, adding more on weekends.
China Yuan features about 30 dim sum, the bite-size dumplings, pastries and rolls that translate from Chinese as "heart's delight." Not restricting their dim sum menu to the early part of the day, as in many restaurants, the cooks here serve chicken feet, beef tripe, turnip pudding and a sweet Crispy Sesame Ball at night.
Order a handful of these little plates and share them with the whole table on a Lazy Susan.
Fried Mix Dumpling, with a tasty pork filling, was our favorite. Semi-firm Stuffed Tofu featured a dull gray, ground pork that we would have liked cooked longer. The tofu wedges had a tasty brown sauce.
Siu Mei, which are little mushroom- and pork-filled pastries, and thin egg rolls were standard appetizers.
Roasted Duck, like any other duck, is fatty but has a crisp skin and moist meat, and arrives with a little container of broth. There are lots of bones to avoid.
The soups here are different. The wonton soup, for instance, is served Hong Kong-style with both fish and shrimp broth.
Fresh Squid in Pepper and Black Bean Sauce is a dish filled with flavor, featuring tender bites of the scored seafood in a spicy sauce.
A platter of Snow Pea Tips, an entree of bright green leaves sauteed with garlic, is not on the menu but is a must-try.
Another special is fried rice, cooked with shrimp, chicken and ham. A blue crab dish with plenty of sweet claws comes saturated in a zesty black bean sauce.
Bright purple baby eggplants are swaddled in a seasoned garlic sauce that stays warm in a small metal hot pot. Another hot pot filled with brisket had wonderful flavor from five-spice seasoning, but the beef was too fatty for our lean New Year's resolutions.
Other entree selections include Soy Sauce Chicken, Chicken in Onion Oil and another dish called Salted Fish, Chicken, Tofu Hot Pot.
If your taste buds are in the doldrums, a few dabs of the restaurant's chili sauce will awaken any mild dish.
The waitress was clear that she wanted our appetizers and entrees ordered together, which was puzzling since the food came out all mixed up.
Service during two visits was friendly, although taxed when crowded.
(CHART) DINING REVIEW
- BOTTOM LINE: North Tampa stop for roasted duck and authentic Cantonese food
- CRITIC'S RATING: Food: C+; Service: C+
- WHERE: 8502 N. Armenia Ave., Tampa
- HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- CREDIT CARDS: All major
- RESERVATIONS: Yes
- CHILDREN'S MENU: No
- WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
- ALCOHOL: None
- PRICE RANGE: Entrees range from $6.95 to $12, with market price lobster at $21
- CALL: (813) 936-7388
Tribune reviewers eat anonymously. Mary D. Scourtes can be reached at (813) 259-7635.