Yum’s Asian Bistro
2501 N. Charles St.,  889-2828
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Yum’s Asian Bistro might be the prettiest restaurant in town where you can sit down to a plate of Kung Pao chicken. You’d be hard pressed to recognize the bones of the former New No Da Ji, much less Love’s, an even earlier tenant, in the newly renovated space at the corner of Charles and 25th streets, where a chandelier dangles crystal droplets from the entryway ceiling. Smoky brown, rectangular glass tiles form a mod wainscoting, and a trompe l’oeil blue sky ceiling scattered with clouds hovers above deep booths. The side of the divided dining room without the sushi prep area boasts a lovely three-dimensional mural with tiny storks picking their way through the sculpted ground. Yum’s is the elegant kind of place you could imagine the late Jimmy Wu (whose New China Inn once lived up the block) would have opened if he were alive and in business today. I only wish the snug, glossy bar was sans a television.
The food at Yum’s, alas, is not quite as sparkling as the dining room, though the sprawling menu gamely offers up many familiar Chinese and Japanese standards. You won’t find chicken feet at Yum’s or salt-and-pepper shrimp, or even much tofu. Instead, chicken is dressed in a slew of fruity sauces—orange, lemon, pineapple—shrimp pairs with walnuts, broccoli, or lobster sauce; and beef hangs with snow peas or mushrooms. The Japanese portion of the menu lists sushi, sashimi, and specialty rolls, as well as teriyaki and tempura entrees. And here and there, among the “healthy entrees” and “super meals,” you can find crab cakes, onion rings, and buffalo wings, but also galbi and pad Thai. Yum’s clearly hopes to cover all bases.
Like the menu, service aims to please. Beers are poured with great reverence; apologies are made when entrees come to the table in staggered stages; a multitude of plates are arranged and rearranged on the table with graceful expertise.
And there are lots of dishes to account for. The “super meal” combinations pair one of 24 entrees with one of three soups, plus two pieces each of the inexplicably popular cream-cheese-stuffed crab Rangoon and serviceable shrimp toast. The entree choices read like an American-Chinese menu’s greatest hits collection—chow mein and lo mein, Hunan beef and General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour shrimp—but the prices, ranging from $12.45 to $14.45, do make these meals a bargain, particularly if you choose wisely.
Egg drop soup ($1.75 for a small or as part of super meal) is predictably mild and a little gummy, but the won ton soup ($1.95 for a small or as part of super meal), made from flavorful stock, satisfies. So, surprisingly, does a plate of sweet and sour shrimp ($13.25 as part of super meal), because the giant fried shrimp are impeccably fresh, not at all greasy, and not drowned in a pool of scarlet sauce (it comes in a saucer on the side). A dish of pad Thai ($11.25) is salty/savory/slightly sweet as it should be, and large enough to feed two with some to spare. In a welcome touch, diners can request brown or fried rice for no extra charge.
Other dishes, though nicely turned out with carrot roses and citrus slices, are less memorable. Egg rolls ($3.25) are all cabbage and little else. Szechuan beef ($13.45 as part of a super meal), though generously portioned, lacks any real fire, whereas Hunan Triple Crown ($17.95), a mix of chicken, shrimp, and lobster pieces in their brilliant red shells, had heat but not much other spice.
On a Saturday night, Yum’s appears to be doing a brisk takeout business, as well as entertaining a full bar and a moderately packed dining room. Diners craving dim sum or more authentic cuisine will fare better in the suburbs, but those looking for an opportunity to dress up and sit down to a Chinese meal within the city limits and who’d prefer to eat their egg foo young on a plate in an elegant dining room rather than from a takeout container in front of the television will find Yum’s a small but potent pleasure.
Yum’s Asian Bistro is open seven days for lunch and dinner. What’s in a name?