Diner: Land of Choice

Uncle Yip's offers a more authentic Chinese menu

Was it fate or coincidence that I ended up at Uncle Yip's during the Chinese New Year celebrations? Despite the juxtaposition of our visit with the holiday and festive paper decorations of happy Asian people on the pastel-tinged walls, Uncle Yip's, like many Chinese restaurants, has a rather seedy quality to it. The indoor/outdoor carpet, black vinyl chairs and white oilcloth table covers are, in fact, quite non-festive. Similarly, service is not the reason to go to Uncle Yip's.

The reason to go is for authentic Chinese cuisine. Uncle Yip's, probably best known for its many seafood dishes, serves Cantonese, Szechwan, Shanghai and American-style cuisines. Many of the live seafood dishes are Cantonese-style, which tends to use fresh ingredients and flavors the dishes with salt rather than soy sauce. The Szechwan dishes are heavier and spicier, like Kung Pao Chicken ($8.25). Shanghai cooking uses vinegar rather than soy sauce, and these items feature more wheat products, like Steamed Pork Buns ($5.95) or the Shredded Pork and Spicy Cabbage Noodle Soup ($4.75). Americanized Chinese menu options include Sweet and Sour Chicken ($8.25) and Shrimp Fried Rice ($9.50).

With more than 200 menu items and everything from Live Steamed Frog Wrapped in Lotus Leaves ($13.95) to Orange Chicken ($8.95), Uncle Yips' has something for everyone — from my parents looking for a dish they'd recognize and I looking for something a little left of Moo Goo Gai Pan. (I was not, however, quite ready for Jellyfish, $5.95).

As we studied the multi-paged menu and waited for my folks to arrive, we ordered some appetizers — the Five Spices Beef ($4.50), homemade Kim Chee ($2.95) and Crispy Sesame Balls ($1.50). The beef was thin slices of sesame- flavored, marbled meat that was served cold and quite delicious. The Kim Chee, traditionally a Korean dish made with various vegetables such as Napa cabbage and daikon radish, was blazingly hot.

Handicapped by the language barrier, I didn't understand the server when she tried to explain that the sesame balls were really a dessert item and plunged ahead with my request. And while they didn't exactly compliment the other two appetizers, I was damn glad I ordered them. Not planning to have dessert that night, I would have completely missed out on the item that made my meal. These four perfectly shaped spheres were gelatinous balls of sweet rice rolled on lightly toasted sesame seeds with a center pocket of brown sugary red bean paste.

For entrées my mom got Veggie Delight with tofu, and my stepdad ordered Szechwan Beef, specifically asking our server to make it as spicy as the Kim Chee. While not stars on the seafood-laden menu, both dishes were serviceable. The veggie delight consisted of large slabs of golden-fried tofu, baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bok choy, bean sprouts and carrots. The chunks of meat in the Szechwan beef were tender, but the heat level had not been ratcheted up to the same level of the now mythical Kim Chee, as requested.

Mr. Husband had Shrimp Mai Fun ($9.50). If you've ever tried to cook rice noodles, you'll understand my delight and surprise when Mr. Husband received a plate of delicious, thin strands of rice that were not mushy pile of starch. The shrimp, however, were a bit of a disappointment. With all the signs screaming "LIVE — SEAFOOD!" you'd have thought the shrimp would have been fresh and jumbo-sized, but they looked like the precooked popcorn variety you'd buy in a bag in your local grocer's freezer section.

Taking my cue from the signs, I ordered the Hong Kong Lobster (market price, which was $15.99 that evening). I was very excited when Mr. Husband looked over my shoulder and said they were fishing my dinner out of one of the tanks and I took a trip to the back of the restaurant to view my dinner's former home. I quickly discovered why they were in the back: The tanks were dirty and unappetizing. But when my segmented, one-antennaed, two-eyed crustacean was placed before me and I started digging the meat out of the lightly breaded and sautéed shells, it wasn't half bad — a littler rubbery, but tasty with it's garnish of sautéed jalapenos and onions.

While none of us were blown away by our dinner choices — except maybe the crispy sesame balls — Uncle Yip's certainly offers a more authentic and interesting menu than most local Chinese restaurants. My guess is that with so many dishes it might take a few visits before you hit on some of the tastier offerings. ©

Uncle Yip's
Go: 7275A Dixie Hwy. (Route 4), Fairfield

Call: 513-942-6512

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Sunday. Dim Sum is offered 11 a.m.­3 p.m. Sunday. (Delivery available 5-9 p.m. within five-mile radius.)

Prices: Moderate

Payment: All major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Many seafood and vegetarian options

Accessibility: Fully accessible

Grade: C

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