What's something many of the next wave of new summer eateries in our gray city have in common? It's Japan! Land of decades long economic recession, with waves of new Chinese tourists buying up luxury toilets with laser-aiming bidets and yummy seafood!
Seems like we're going through a mini Nippon restaurant renaissance, most of which are Chinese-run. China and Japan have a complex relationship, so it's good to see no jingoism over the dinner table. Good food is good food. And we all benefit from curious Beijingers taking holidays or living abroad for a few years, and bringing back with them their new passionate food interests and the entrepreneurial spirit to see them expressed in their home town. Open-mindedness makes us all interesting.
Within this same vein of hobbyists-cum-restaurateurs is the proprietor of Yuan he, a new, one-room affair right off of Andingmennei in everyone's favorite hutong, Fangjia. It's itty-bitty; blink and you'll miss it. Decor-wise, It's grey hutong minimal with track lighting, which works well. They're using an iPad-as-menu, which is a classic douche move, I'm sorry. But it's a small, small menu for a small, small venue, so that's a better sign.
Another good sign was when the really pro chef/proprietor showed us a few pans containing his daily selection of glistening sea creatures right before we ordered. Mmmm... too many delicious.
Brief cold dish selection, and we went for dishes we hadn't seen elsewhere. The spicy squid cartilage (20rmb) has a Guijie vibe, albeit with cleaner mala spicy notes. I imagine the cartilage itself is mostly textural, since the bold flavors of the sauce mask anything subtle. The “golden line” jellyfish (25rmb) is a take on the classic Southern Chinese shredded jellyfish salad. Simple and pleasing with a dash of mirin, rice vinegar, green onion and radish.
Sashimi. A la carte will work, but go for a selection of three (80rmb) or five (120rmb) as it seems the better deal. Plating and presentation is, across the board, thoughtful and expressive. Most pleasing of the sashimi selection was the fat, buttery scallop with a razor thin slice of lemon in-between and the lightly smokey snapper fillet. The giant clams were “well traveled,” so a bit rubbery and tasteless.
Rolls and nigiri are fairly priced. The spicy tuna roll (45rmb) is presented with a rich fermented douchi chili sauce on the side and a simple dot of mayo on each piece. It really shines, especially at that price. The salmon nigiri (20rmb for two pieces) is flavorful and undoubtedly very fresh.
Finished off with cold green tea buckwheat noodles (25rmb), which were a minor triumph. The hot noodles are plunged into an ice bath, with bits of clear ice crystals clinging to the surface. The dashi and mirin broth is light and refreshing. Wash it all down with a small, basic selection of Japanese beer and sake.
The Take-Away: Recommended! I think my only issue would be that although everything is well done, it's not too memorable. It's like Yuan He did all it's homework and got an A, but no extra credit. (Or something... forgive the school analogies.) Maybe a focus on a distinctive dish or vibe that would bring people out?
In the meantime, it's absolutely worth a try. Maybe make a reservation since the space is so tiny. You could make it a Fangjia summer date night out, with a glass of wine and something to share at Ramo, dinner at Yuan He and further drinks down at Cellar Door.
Fangjia, man. It's doing alright.
Yuan He is at Fangjia hutong #71, right off of Andingmennei.