Yan's pays attention to the details
Yan's China Bistro
146 Humphrey St., Swampscott
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.;Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. 11 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped
Like many other New England towns, Swampscott is a place where old-timers refer to restaurants by their former names. So, for many, the Red Rock Bistro is still Doane's, and Fantasy Island - which is technically over the border in Salem - will always be China Sails.
So when friends talked recently about the Chinese restaurant over at Eaton's, I had an idea of where to go. Back in the 1960s, Eaton's pharmacy stood at the narrow business corridor that welcomes people to Swampscott. Eaton's is long gone, and most recently it was a real estate office. But two years ago, Karen Lin opened Yan's China Bistro and since then, it has built a loyal group of customers.
Lin, who grew up in southern China, also runs a Yan's restaurant in a storefront on Lewis Street in Lynn. Since the small Lynn restaurant is often filled, I decided to go to Swampscott.
Lin's Swampscott location is roomy and bright, with yellow walls and comfortable brown booths and chairs. The place seats 46, and on the night we visited last week, it was half-full.
We were immediately impressed by the hot and sour soup ($2.50). This is not a large offering, but it proved to be a pleasant farrago of tofu, black mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. We were also happy when Lin agreed to make the soup truly vegetarian by using a clear, meatless broth.
You can learn a lot about a restaurant by the care taken in preparing soup, and our appetizers and entrées were equally deserving. The two vegetarian spring rolls ($4) were crispy, yet delicate and delicious. The scallion pancake ($4.50) was sliced in six pieces. Thin, tart, and warm, the pancake was accompanied by a ginger sauce dip, which was very satisfying.
My wife prefers cruciferous vegetables and Yan's did not disappoint. The delightful triple green ($8) included fresh steamed broccoli, pea pods, and bok choy. This was a great fiber addition to our meal, given that we also ordered vegetarian pad Thai ($8.50), tofu with vegetables ($8), and fillet of flounder with ginger scallion sauce ($12).
I've eaten plenty of pad Thai over the years, and this serving was among the spiciest I've been served. Fortunately, the noodles were also sweetened with a peanut sauce that included brown sugar and lime.
The tofu with vegetables was also top-rate. If you like deep-fried tofu, fresh broccoli, and Chinese cabbage, then this could serve as an entire meal.
Hidden on the menu was the flounder, which I fortunately found and ordered. This is a large fillet - enough for two - that's lightly breaded and fried, topped with a mild gelatinous ginger and scallion sauce. The flounder, which once was a staple in North Shore restaurants, is getting harder to find on menus these days, and it was good to see it served right across from Swampscott's King's Beach.
We couldn't resist sampling the fried bananas for dessert. The serving consisted of two four-inch bananas lightly fried in phyllo philo dough and topped with sesame seeds and honey - absurdly sweet and yummy.
The bill came to $59 for the three of us, pretty reasonable for a range of good Chinese food and an ocean view.