Remember a few weeks ago when I told you that Jia Xiang was my favorite Chinese restaurant in St. Louis? In the Royal Rumble that is my favorite restaurants list, they just got their asses tossed out of the ring by Yummy17. Yummy17 is like the Albert Pujols of Chinese restaurants in St. Louis - no one expected much out of this newcomer to the scene, but lo and behold, it's smashing some Szechuan home runs. I don't understand the name, but I love it. Even the logo, two Disney-esque hands giving the thumbs up sign, is great. I would buy a shirt with that on it.
The restaurant is barely 2 months old, located on Olive Blvd. across from Wonton King and Seafood City. Pull into the parking lot of the generically named Asian Supermarket and it'll be on the far right. There's no real sign up yet.
Yummy17 has a few things going for it:
The full menu is in English.
The full menu does not have bullshit American Chinese food on it.
The staff speak English and are very friendly.
The food is top notch.
If you open the window shades inside the restaurant, you can spy on people in the grocery store.
These pictures are from two separate meals there. The first was with my Chinese friend Lily, a master of dumplings and a hilariously harsh critic of Chinese food. She did all the ordering for us, which started with [symple_highlight color="blue"]A09: hot and spicy duck tongues[/symple_highlight]. I've had duck tongues at bars before, but it was always fried. All I could think was jesus, look at all these tongues. This is a whole colony of ducks.
Flavor-wise, they were really good thanks to a thin sauce made up of a not-too-hot chili oil, I think. I believe they're braised, as they're very tender, but difficult to eat for a novice like myself. There's cartilage in the middle, so you sort of bite and pull the meat off. I made a huge mess.
This is true Szechuan food. It's not just chili oil, chilies, and burning bowels. There's nuance and flavors not seen elsewhere - like the use of cumin! I had no idea that cumin was used in China at until eating these kebabs (Google tells me it originated in the Xinjiang region in Northeast China, bordering on all the -Stans). This grill platter is a mix of A19: Lamb, A17: Beef, and A21: Quail, the star of which is the quail. It's $2.99 per quail half, which seems like a great deal to me.
The meat on all 3 were tender, with flavor that is just tremendous though - a tongue numbing mix of cumin and Szechuan peppercorn.
What may appear to be noodles and fish below is in fact an off the menu special made up of Chinese yellow chives and conch, stir fried with mushrooms, chiles, and red peppers. I don't know what the cooking sauce is, but I am in love with it. The chives have a mild, sweet onion flavor, the conch is not unlike calamari, and the mushrooms are these juicy saucy bombs.
If you don't like gelatinous food (like most Americans), you can skip the braised ham hock. You get three hockey puck sized pieces of wobbly pork on the bone, more skin/fat/tendon than meat, braised in a sweet and salty soy broth. I was more a fan of the sauce than the jellied pork, but my Chinese friend gave it her approval.
The Hot and spicy fish filet takes what they serve at Jia Xiang and pumps it up with more flavor. Its color screams fire, but in actuality, it's fairly mild - though if you're a glutton for punishment, just ask for more heat. Scallions and cilantro help to balance the dish with some brightness. The fish is mild enough that it picks up that it really takes on the spicy flavors of the broth.
Our last dish was stir fried clams in black bean sauce. I was worried it would be the thick, corn syrupy black bean sauce seen at so many places in St. Louis, but it wasn't. It was a light sauce with mild green chiles. Clams were plump, I was happy, the end.
As of right now, Yummy17 is easily my #1 Chinese restaurant in St. Louis, followed by Jia Xiang. Got somewhere else you think I should try? Leave me a comment and let me know!