Yuan Lei Restaurant Gourmet
4880 Sources Blvd (between Anselme Lavigne/Joseph Paiement)
Dollard-Des Ormeaux, Quebec
Phone: (514) 418-8726
Cost: $ 65.30
Chef Hats: 3
A relatively newcomer to the West Island, Yuan Lei opened in late 2016 amid very little fanfare. Nestled between other commercial businesses, you wouldn’t know it was there unless you take a closer look. Located lower on Sources Boulevard, in the same mall that houses a slew of restaurants like Pho Thanh, Aryana and Les 3 Maria’s, it is up against some pretty good contenders. There is no shortage of Asian Restaurants in this area, but if you want something truly authentic, you need to try Yuan Lei. The menu is extensive, serving all the classics as well as different dishes from Szchecuan, Cantonese and Shandong regions. Portions are generous and the cost is very affordable. It does not have a famous chef manning its kitchen, but one who brings us his love of good homemade Asian food cooked from his region.
This evening, we dropped in after shopping in the area. Looking for a quick bite and some comfort food, it looked like a good pick. We are always looking for new restaurants to try in the area and my sidekick Brains will never say no to Asian food. We were pleasantly surprised with the hospitality we received upon walking in and felt immediately comfortable. Yuan Lei’s is simple and unpretentious. Its decor is minimalistic with it has black leather banquettes placed in the center of the restaurants forming private booths. Against the other wall more banquettes and dark wood tables and chairs. The white walls have a few oriental lithographs and the place looks clean and decor sparse and streamlined. Red Chinese emblems cover the windows on the entrance.
Yuan Lei also works on a skeletal staff, there was only one waiter and one chef, but we didn’t have to wait too long to get served. Our waiter was extremely courteous and accommodating. He brought us our tea, a large pot to be shared by two and went over the menu with us. The restaurant is also very quiet. Looking around we noticed that most of the dinners were Asian, and it goes without saying if you see only Asian patrons in the restaurant, it must be homemade and authentic.
As for the menu, you can find some pretty weird things, like Hot & Sour Fungus Soup and Spicy Pork Ears. For a moment, I had a vision of being on an episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. Don’t be alarmed, I believe the errors and wording on the menu is more of a language issue. It is probably stuff you have eaten in an Asian restaurant before. They are not trying to scare you by feeding you disgusting sounding food or anything too exotic other than authentic Asian food that can be found in many food courts or street food in China.
For entrees we ordered a seaweed salad for $ 4.99, which was copious enough to be shared by two. We also ordered half a dozen spring rolls for $2.50, as the regular portion would have been too much for us and a Hot & Sour Soup.
The salad was delicious and better tasting than we had in many places. We were surprised at the quantity as we have never received so much at other Asian counterparts. The egg rolls were the mini version but were equally as good. You can order a dozen for $ 4.99 which is a really good deal. Although Egg rolls can be heavy on the oil, these did not taste rancid and were actually very crispy and tasty. The Hot & Sour Soup a typical staple on any Asian menu hit the spot and although generic, had a good consistency and good balance of flavours, not too watery or too heavy on the rice vinegar.
My dining partner Brains ordered the Ma Po Tofu, for $ 11.99 which is a spicy mix of tofu cubes and ground beef.Brains is not a ground beef fan, and she only later found out through an Asian friend that the authentic version served here is how it is suppose to be. As opposed to others places which serve the non beef version with very little meat. The Ma Po Tofu dish also contained lots of Sichuan peppers and large tofu cubes. The dish was topped with a sliced green onion garnish. It was deliciously garlicky and would be perfect served with steamed rice.
Her second dish was Seafood Dumplings, the dough was made with seaweed, and the filling was a mix of shrimp and pork. These large pockets of steamed tender green dumplings were amazingly delicious and a must try. I could not get enough of them and we received a generous portion as well for $ 8.99. The filling was savoury and delicious and you just wanted to eat as many of them as possible. I will return just to have the dumplings again.
The Foo-Foodie ordered the Spicy Sichuan Shrimp for $ 15.99 and General Tao Chicken for $ 11.99, a usual staple of mine as I base all my Asian adventures on the quality of the these dishes. The Spicy Shrimp were large deep fried shrimp with shell on and topped with a spicy red sauce, sautéed with green peppers, onions and carrots slivers. The flavours were robust with the perfect aroma of garlic, ginger, and green onion medley; they were totally addictive. To be eaten like crayfish, or with shells removed, that is at your discretion.
The General Tao chicken was mediocre and lacking in color and consistency. My first experience with this dish brings me back to the now defunct Piment Rouge. I base my critique of this dish on its likeness to my original experience. A while back I obtained the original recipe of Piment Rouge’s General Tao Chicken and have made the dish so many times, that I was dubbed me the Queen of Sichuan. I have fine tuned my recipe to get the full impact of Asian flavours. My creation is a perfect balance of crispy chicken morsels, spicy red marinade sauce, not too much vinegar and all the aroma of the Holy Trinity of Asian food.
This evening at Yuan Lei, the sauce for the General Tao’s chicken was off in color. It was orange instead of its usual bright dark red color. Also lacking were the aromatic Asian flavours, missing was the medley of aromatic ginger, green onions, garlic and vegetables that make this dish an aphrodisiac. I did receive a heaping bowl full but the chicken pieces were not consistent and some too small to hold much flavour. I also ordered side a bowl of steamed rice to go with our meal. I did not see dessert on the menu, but at this point we were too full for any dessert and just completed our meal with tea.
We had lots of food leftover and we asked to bag it, they were more than happy to bring us a container, which we filled ourselves at the table. It served as lunch for the next day and the leftovers were just as delicious as the day before. Yuan Lei is a good contender and a definite worthwhile return, authentic and original Chinese fare in all its simplistic forms, as close as it can get to authentic Chinese food modified to suit the North American palate.