Everyone has their favorite Sichuan restaurant, and they tend to defend their choice with irrational passion. Most of us tend to focus on "how spicy is it?" as if that was all that mattered. Sichuan food is far more complex and nuanced than a mindless macho contest over who can eat the most peppers. Take a look, for example, at Yu Xin's eclectic menu.
I'm not the only one who has raved about Yu Xin -- in fact, much to my annoyance, everyone seems to. That's why I have to wait an hour for a table most nights, 'cause the whole city seems to be there at once. Can't blame them.
There's a few locations
of Yu Xin in Shanghai (and about five in their home city, Beijing) but the most known location is on the third floor of the building next to the STV building, on the corner of Weihai Lu and Chengdu Lu. Yeah, it's in an office building, but once inside you're sitting pretty with tables that are spaced well and even have a glass wall between them -- maybe to block you from your neighboring table's splattering chili oil. They've got nice thick carpet to keep the noise down, and the hostesses are decked out in tight qipaos.
There's a few pages full of cold dishes and appetizers to start with, most of them around 12rmb. Chinese broccoli on ice is a good fresh start before getting into the bigger flavors.
You like Peking duck? Get over it -- Yu Xin's tea-smoked duck (78rmb) is better. It's similar, except it's got a more complex flavor (from the tea smoke), and instead of wraps, it comes with little white steam buns that you can fold like a miniature taco. The buns have a subtle sweetness that works with the rich duck meat.
We judge all Sichuan restaurants by the quality of their dan dan mian -- a simple single-serving noodle dish with a spicy-numb peanut sauce. Yu Xin's is only 3rmb and it's one of the better we've had in Shanghai.
The water-cooked fish (88rmb for 2 people) used to be our favorite here, but recent trips have been disappointing. On our last visit, in fact, we wanted to send the dish back because the fish cuts were mostly bone, soggy skin, and fins, not like we've had before here. Our waitress shrugged, "each chef is different" and walked off. Not good. Stick with Pinchuan
for water-cooked fish.
The bullfrog (68rmb) was much better. Mouth-watering ma la flavor and lots of succulent frog meat to nibble on.
People like to order big jugs of juice here -- which makes sense, on one hand, 'cause watermelon juice quickly kills the spice burn in your throat -- but we find that a bunch of fast-metabolizing fruit juice, mixed in the belly with a ton of spicy food doesn't sit well. Which is silly, of course, 'cause it doesn't stop us from drinking tons of cold beer with the meal. To each their own. Why not try guilingao (3rmb) or a sweet fermented rice soup (3rmb) for dessert to counter the spice rush.
Yu Xin still wins our approval, despite the disappointing last visit, and the service needs a pep talk. Asking for our check half way through the meal isn't polite or good business sense.
Pictures for that photoshop wizzardry were taken from Yin Xin's webpage.