Lunch: Chef Yu, I Knew This Day Would Come

The last time I picked up lunch at Chef Yu, I predicted that, despite the mediocre food, I’d be back again.

photoToday was that day: Driven by the need for a reasonably-priced lunch menu, with a spicy tofu dish, within ultra-close proximity of my office, that takes cards for orders less than $10 — well, Chef Yu was the only place I knew of within a few-blocks radius that met the bare-minimum requirements, the most important being the spicy tofu dish.

Why the insistence on a spicy tofu dish when changing up the food would open up a whole new world (comparatively speaking) of options? Well I’ve had an eye on Szechuan Gourmet’s “Ma Paul Tofu” after reading about it on Midtown Lunch a few weeks ago, a craving that’s only intensified after the discovery of this photo of the gorgeous, dark-red braised tofu dish in EatinginTranslation’s photo stream, and that has only further intensified today with this feeling of a cold coming on. (Whenever I start to feel under the weather I crave spicy Asian comfort foods like kimchi stew or Thai curries, and hot fresh ginger drinks.)

photo(2)Which is how I wound up at Chef Yu — again. No Szechuan Gourmet, I’m sure, but the “tofu Szechuan style” was an improvement from the cloyingly-sweet lemon chicken I had last time. The silken tofu floated buoyantly in the dark red sauce, very savory, a little smokey-flavored with a touch of heat (not enough for my taste), and stirring in the brown rice gave the dish an enjoyable stew-like consistency.

The verdict: Last time I predicted some set of circumstances will drive me back to Chef Yu. This time, I’m going to do my absolute best to stay away, with so many better lunching options just a few more minutes’ walk away, but I’m not saying there’s not a chance … [inverse Dumb and Dumber quote, sic.]

Lunch: Wednesday, April 16, 2009

photo214Lunch strategy: Eat this now and find real food later.

This =s the best bits of leftover stir-fried vegetables, fried rice and paltry iceberg lettuce salad from mediocre meal at Chef Yu earlier this week. Plus a hard-boiled egg (not pictured). Sort of pathetic, but tastes surprisingly okay, which is to say mostly soy sauce-y with a hint of pineapple sweetness left from the sauce which I poured off. In small doses, it’s not so sticky sweet.

Will get me through till next real meal …

COST: salvage mission!
PREP TIME: 2 minutes in the micro, 1 minute arranging

Lunch: Monday, April 13, 2009

photo35I’m conflicted, or maybe apathetic is a better word. But I’m getting ahead of myself — let me back it up…

Intrigued. That was the state-of-mind that led me to walk in the door at Chef Yu for a second time in a week (the first to grab a take-out menu). Its spacious and airy, cool and a dimly lit, the perfect counterpoint to the din of Eighth Avenue. Lunch specials are a bargain; they top out at $6.75. My take-out order of a small wonton soup and lemongrass chicken came out to $9.05. (Cheap!)

photo211Astonished. My food emerged lightening quick, three minutes, five minutes max. That was the first surprise. Back at my desk, I was surprised again by the number of items packed into my take-out bag. In addition to the entree and soup, Chef Yu sent me packing with a small salad, two mini egg rolls, vegetable fried rice, a fork and sauce packet and a sizable package of crispy chow-mein noodles that have virtually zero nutritional value and any purpose, as far as I can discern, except to be something I shove in my face at some point in the future when I’m starving and rummaging in my desk drawer for anything to eat.

Suspicious. Here’s when I began to get suspicious. Why so many distractions? I take a bite. Ah, here’s why. The food’s not bad, but it’s certainly not good. The salad is iceberg lettuce, the fried rice tastes heavily of soy sauce and I ended up picking through it to find the stray mung bean or edamame. The chicken is too chewy, the vegetables, meh, the sauce not unlike McDonald’s sweet and sour dipping sauce, which is to say a little too sweet.

Disappointed. Sort of. Well, not really. Maybe. Undecided, or apathetic. I suspect at some point I’ll forget all this and be drawn in again by Chef Yu’s promise of cheap and calm.

COST: $9.05
PREP TIME: n/a