Thursday, April 11, 2013
On Day 1 of her new job, Mrs. Hackknife specifically mentioned during her introductory speech to the team that she and her husband were excited to check out Tampa-St. Pete's local dining scene and that we were looking for suggestions. Since then, the staff has graciously provided her with a flood of recommendations, so many that the to-do list has already reached unwieldy proportions. Given our reduction in social obligations since the move (we left most of the relatives behind in Chicago), however, we've suddenly found ourselves with more availability to actually try some of these places; that is, assuming we can line up sitters (one of my ongoing projects) or bring the kiddos with us. Anyway, we managed to sneak out of the house a second time during the recent visit by my in-laws to dine at one of the first suggestions that the missus received: Yummy House (2202 W. Waters), an often-visited Chinese eatery located in the Armenia Gardens Estates neighborhood of northwest Tampa. The proprietors are originally from a coastal city in Guangdong Province (a region of China known for its Cantonese cuisine) and they operate a second Yummy House on Hillsborough Avenue, although we were urged to visit the original location on Waters.
We were told that the restaurant can get crowded on peak days and I didn't have any luck calling the phone number for a reservation (guess everyone was too busy in the kitchen to answer), so we picked a Monday night to minimize the likelihood that we'd have to wait. This was a prudent decision as there was plenty of space for us in the dining room when we arrived.
Like many Chinese eateries in America, the menu was rather, um, voluminous, a veritable phone book of choices (see photo above). Luckily, we'd received a dish recommendation along with our dining recommendation - it was absolutely imperative that we order the salt and pepper tofu appetizer (which we did).
The tofu arrived at the table in fried golden blocks (yet soft and creamy on the inside) and featured a zingy garnish of chopped cilantro, scallions, ginger, chili peppers, and peanuts, a tremendous amalgam of flavors and textures (see photo above). The garnish (sort of like a Chinese chimichurri minus the oil) was so tasty I used a little to spark up a couple of the other plates that we ordered afterwards. Whomever made this suggestion is an individual whose gastronomic opinions I now trust completely. If Tony Hu (Chicago's reigning champion of regional Chinese cuisine) doesn't already have something like this on one of his menus, he needs to pronto. Oh, we also ordered some eggrolls, but these were not particularly noteworthy.
Two more dishes arrived. What you see above is a dish featured in the "BBQ" section of the menu (although I'm not exactly sure how BBQ is used in this context), a roasted chicken chopped up into small pieces and served with scallions and scallion oil. This was also very good, if not a little challenging to eat with the bones still around (I need to find me one of those cleavers so I can do stuff like this back at the Canteen). The spice level of this creation was subtle, relying mostly on the fresh, berbal notes of the scallions to hold everything together. We also selected a dish from the "Clay Pot/Sizzling" part of the menu, a braised grouper pot that consisted of fried grouper pieces, tofu cubes that were browned rather than fried (not quite as yummy as the other ones), and various vegetables cooked in a gravy-like sauce. Both the grouper and the chicken made fine additions to the meal and even finer leftovers for lunch later that week.
Now that the bar has been set for Chinese cuisine in Tampa, I'm curious to see how similar places in town compare. Until then, I'll be dreaming about that salt and pepper tofu...