Monday, March 5, 2012
It's been more than a few years since I've ventured north to Montgomery, NJ to eat at Ya-Ya Noodles, a sister restaurant to one of my favorite Chinese places anywhere, Tiger Noddles in Princeton. It was more than just geography that kept Ya Ya Noodles out of my culinary peripheral vision. It was the food. It was just not up to the quality of its older sibling in Princeton. Sure, the presentations were more contemporary than the homestyle cooking of the older mothership, but the dishes were just too bland, too Americanized, too blah. Were they playing is safer for the suburban crowd? Perhaps.
Well it's been about 10 years now, and Ya Ya has a new manager, Judy Tung, who's worked in the Princeton restaurant for longer than I've been dining there, and she's whipping Ya Ya into shape. We had dinner there Friday night to surprise her and congratulate her on her well-deserved promotion.
"So what's good here now?" we asked. "Chef here is very good with Thai dishes. Thai style is very good here," said Tung. This branch of the 3-location mini-chain (there is another Tiger Noodles on Route 1 South in West Windsor, next to a Whole Foods market)is a much larger place, seating about 125-150 maximum, and its menu is also a larger adventure, with more appetizers, several more Chinese entrees (including Creaky Chicken, a terrific dish) than the other two Tiger Noodles, a full page of Thai dishes and an extensive sushi menu.
Yes, Ya Ya Noodles is one of those hybrid Asian restaurants that merge 3 or more cuisines onto one menu. I am not a big fan of this style of Asian restaurant, and there are usually disappointments just waiting for a knowledgeable palate. But I have faith that Judy Tung will be making sure that each menu segment will be authentic and expertly made. Her personal standards for Chinese and Thai food are very high (we've dined with her many times and she's taught me a lot about what REAL Chinese should taste like, as well as Thai). I'm not a big sushi fan, but Tung is. The sushi at Ya Ya's gonna be fresh and expertly crafted, bet on it.
Friday night we ate around the menu a bit, mostly at Tung's direction. Seafood dumplings (it's Lent after all) were gossamer thin wrappers plumped with ground shrimp and scallops, pan fried to a nice golden shade. Popular at Tiger Noodles, these were a new addition to the Ya Ya menu and a good move. The kids loved their won ton and won ton egg drop soups; the wontons looked as delicate as the larger dumplings on my plate, a good sign of skilled handwork in the kitchen. A plate of spare ribs was also ordered, and they looked larger and meatier than any I've ever seen in a Chinese restaurant. But Lenten adherence kept me from sampling them, of course. Entrees included a zippy jumbo shrimp dish in a red curry sauce, with peppers and eggplant, dramatically served in a large handmade clay bowl; chicken in garlic sauce, the chicken, onions and peppers,sliced into matchsticks for an impressive presentation; another shrimp dish, this one with a fiery Szechuan sauce into which was tucked peppers, onions, mushrooms and crunchy broccoli crowns; more broccoli came with Ben's go-to dish, chicken with broccoli, and his empty plate at dinner's end said enough about what he thought of his choice.
Judy Tung has Ya Ya Noodles humming, with well-trained servers and highly skilled chefs in her kitchen. Expect more improvements as she gets settled into her new position as manager of the place. There will be serious Chinese, Thai and sushi in Montgomery at last. Stay tuned.