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Tasty Chinese cuisine will fill your belly

SANTA FE, N.M. — Although Santa Fe is not known as a center of Asian cuisine, the city has several Chinese restaurants along with a handful of Japanese, Thai and at least a couple “pan Asian” places. Each has a little different niche. Those with good food and sound management attract regular customers, despite the allure of huevos rancheros and hot sopaipillas elsewhere.

Located inside the Design Center, Yin Yang is one of Santa Fe’s oldest Chinese restaurants and seems to have cornered the downtown Chinese lunch buffet market. Each day, customers fill their plates from an assortment of hot chicken, beef and vegetable dishes. You can add soup, rice, even a salad bar. Grab a fresh plate and have more if you want. If you aren’t a buffet person, for the same $7.95, you can select among seven lunch specials which will be prepared for you in the kitchen. For a dollar or two more, you can have seafood, all served with egg roll, soup, rice and the crescent-shaped cookie with your fortune inside. The ambiance is a variation on classic Chinese with paper globe lights, screens and pink walls.

Yin Yang doesn’t offer a buffet at dinner. Instead, customers select from a multi-page menu that includes classic Chinese dishes from egg foo young to sweet and sour pork and chop suey. You’ll find meals based on noodles, rice, tofu and vegetable dishes. Meat wrapped in little Chinese pancakes. A “Pu Pu Tray” served with a fire pot for warming your skewered meat. Most choices are under $10. Apart from $26 for a whole Peking duck, the priciest entree is $15.95.

Yin Yang
WHERE: 418 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, 505-986-9279
FOOD: Chinese. Beer and wine available.
HOURS: 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily.

Not only is Yin Yang inexpensive, the food is satisfying, too.

My friend and I started with pot stickers, those fried dumplings traditionally filled with a mixture of ground pork and vegetables. The ones served at Yin Yang are tasty and attractive too. The order of six sat on a bed of greens on a divided plate that included a mild dipping sauce. Pot stickers come in all sizes and these were large, at least three bites each. I had to cut them to eat them and when I did, the ball of filling, which seemed to be mostly meat, rolled free because the wonton skin had some unsealed in the cooking. Despite this technical difficulty, they tasted great. ($4.95)

If you don’t pick the $7.95 combination plate—egg drop soup, fried rice, egg roll and choice of chicken or pork in a sweet and sour sauce or pepper steak—entrees are served family style. One entree with a bowl of rice is enough for two, especially if, for an extra $3, you add soup—choice of hot and sour, egg drop or wonton—an egg roll, a pot of tea, and a cookie. But Chinese food is fun to share and because of the variety of options, Yin Yang is a good place to come with a group.

Since there were just two of us, however, ordering was a challenge. I know from past experience that the orange beef is good here. I also like the eggplant with garlic sauce and the light touch the kitchen takes with “Moo Goo Gai Pan,” chicken breast in a sauce with fresh mushrooms and other vegetables. But I wanted something different, something I hadn’t had before. I gravitate to those dishes I don’t cook (or cook very well) at home, so I thought it was a night for duck.

Peking duck seemed excessive, so I tried “West Lake Duck” ($13.95), a recipe which fries the bird quickly to crisp the skin, then steams it and serves pieces of deboned meat with a kaleidoscope of vegetables. Not only did it taste good, the presentation was spectacular. The dish arrived wrapped in heavy duty foil twisted on the ends to resemble a swan, and came with a fresh rosebud on the side. The waiter opened the foil releasing the steamy aroma of the duck and vegetables. It tasted good, too, although slightly bland.

We also tried the “Triple Delight in Garlic Sauce” ($12.95) which was marked with a chile on the menu to indicate “hot and spicy.” It really wasn’t very spicy, maybe a 4 on the 1-to-10 scale. There were a lot of other flavors in play here–beef, scallops and shrimp, along with water chestnuts, snow peas, mushrooms, zucchini slices, celery and more. The vegetables, all fresh and crisp, outnumbered the protein. We got a bowl of white rice for the table (brown is available) at no extra charge.

I ordered the “complete dinner” and tried the egg drop soup. It was hot and fresh, although the corn kernels added to the broth were shriveled. I stirred in soy sauce to enhance the flavor. The eggroll was crisp, packed with mostly veggies inside, and not too greasy. It came with two sauces: hot mustard and sweet sauce.

Our dinner for two, with plenty of leftovers, was $37.75 with tax before the tip..