Sometimes a Rose is a Carrot

2006.May.04 Thursday · 14 comments

in Restaurants

Shi Yuan - carrot roseBuenos Aires – As anyone who eats a lot of Chinese food knows, there’s a big difference in the “plating style” between most Chinese (and many other Asian cuisines) food, and most Western food. Chinese dishes tend towards food that’s already cut into bite-sized pieces, saving the need of a knife, making the use of chopsticks easier (discounting those of you who think chopsticks are the devil’s work and just can’t get the hang of them), and, often meaning presentations that are essentially heaps of jumbled food. The “pretty” comes from the mix of colors, and also from the touches of decoration that often surround the food, but aren’t necessarily meant to be eaten. Western food often goes to the opposite extreme – food is served in large portions, requiring surgical portioning on your own plate using knife and fork, and is, especially these days, often presented so that the main component of the dish is the part made to look pretty. There’s an old rule in Western style cooking of not putting anything on the plate that isn’t meant to be eaten. My experience with Chinese restaurants here has been the lesser of both worlds – food cut up and ready to eat, heaped on the plate, and nothing to pretty it up. I was quite happy to have this carrot rose on my plate yesterday. It brought a smile to my face.

Shi Yuan - turnip cakesVictor and I were eating at Shi Yuan, Tagle 2531, here in Barrio Norte [This place closed in late 2014.], a place he’s been telling me about for months and somehow we never got to. He eats there on a regular basis, enough so that they welcome him by name when he walks in. No mean feat in a Chinese restaurant, where a large percentage of the customers are Chinese, and which looks like it could be in the heart of Chinatown, Anywhere. Brightly lit, tables divided into sections by low wooden rails (I see that in many Chinese restaurants around the world and think… hmm… does it really make the sections feel more private? Isn’t it just a waste of space? Who knows, but it’s common enough that I think of it as a classic Chinese restaurant design). There’s a small rock waterfall near the entrance, various colorful knickknacks hanging here and there, a fan of peacock feathers filling a large part of one wall, and Chinese Opera music playing in the background.

Shi Yuan - fried dumplingsWe started off with a selection of appetizers. A couple of Tarta de Nabo or turnip cakes – sesame crusted buns filled with a mix of tender turnip mixed with turnip greens, and spiced with an elusive mix of sesame oil, soy, and something else that I couldn’t quite get. Really quite good, and I’ve mentioned before that I like turnips and have been steadily disappointed by the tasteless, watery presentations of them here. I could go back for a plate of these – and at 1 peso, they’re hard to beat! Victor asserted that the Empanadas Chinas a la Plancha, or potstickers, at Shi Yuan are the best in the city, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with him. Not that I have any reason I’d want to. Filled with pork, ginger, and scallions, and cooked perfectly so that they weren’t greasy at all, and served up with an excellent soy and vinegar dipping sauce.

Shi Yuan - shui maiAfter potstickers, shui mai are probably my favorite Chinese appetizer. These, unfortunately, were a trifle disappointing. The flavor is there – backed with a mix of ground meat, vegetables, and spices, but the texture was off. The dough was slightly too thick, and had a chewy quality to it as a result, and the filling, despite having just been steamed, was dried out and a little cakey. I can’t imagine that they’d be like that freshly made, and can only assume that these were leftover from a day or two before. What a shame in an otherwise delightful lunch!

Shi Yuan - pescado picanteAhh, a rose is a rose is a… and we get to my lovely plate with the carrot rose. I’d wanted to order a plate of one of the half-dozen eel dishes, something one doesn’t see often here. In fact, Shi Yuan offers a lot of stuff one doesn’t see often here – including a half or whole Peking Duck, at a very reasonable 30 or 58 pesos respectively (order in advance or prepare to wait 50 minutes), a wide range of seafood, and a selection of dishes from various regions of China as opposed to the usual concentration on Taiwanese and Cantonese fare. Victor’s not a fan of eel, so I went with fish, and took our waiter’s excellent selection for the pescado picante, a lightly spicy saute of filleted fish tossed with, I think, oyster sauce, a touch of hot pepper, and ginger.

Shi Yuan - sweet and sour porkWe also shared a delicious plate of the sweet and sour pork, or cerdo agridulce, with finely shredded pork and vegetables in a rich brown sauce that was both piquant and mildly sweet. So much nicer than the usual syrupy fruit based sweet and sour sauces that seem common, not just here, but in many lesser quality Chinese restaurants. All in all, an excellent meal, I’m sorry it took me so long to check this place out, especially as it’s a mere ten minute walk from home, and I’ll be going back!


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Scarlett August 23, 2007 at 16:56

We were told about Shi Yuan a few weeks ago, when I mentioned to a friend my craving for Chinese food. ( based on memories of the last good Chinese food we had at home in NY)
We went to Shi Yuan shortly after and enjoyed a really great meal.
I was cautious with the heat, choosing a dish that was not too spicy, my husband had the pulpo with all the spices. Both dishes were perfect and the rice was good too.
Our waiter was funny, took great care of us, even with 2 large tables of Asian families feasting..( I really wanted to go sit with them )..
Last night we went back, to find that they were closed while they did repairs on the Koi pond by the door.
I am waiting for them to re-open, I am craving good Chinese food again !

Candice February 21, 2010 at 14:46

Shi Yuan has new owners ( for about a year now) and I am not sure that the quality of the food is as good as it was ..

dan February 21, 2010 at 16:51

Perhaps it’s new investors or partners, but I was there just a week ago (I generally get there about once a month) and the same owner whom I met the first time I went to the place was still there, said hello and we chatted. Same waiters too. The food was as good as ever if not better.

Frank Almeida November 19, 2010 at 09:30

I can´t believe I have not heard of this place. It´s on my list of next places to visit. Thanks!

dan November 19, 2010 at 12:03

Given that it’s just a few blocks from our house it’s a place we go to at least once a month – I think it’s pretty much the best Chinese food in town.

Candice January 9, 2011 at 19:36

We went there when we first moved here ( you know how close we live to them ) so that would be 3 years ago and about a year now, there have been new people there. The guy, tall, skinny, bad teeth , who always greeted us was gone. We ran into him at the Post Office on Pueyrredon/Santa Fe about a year ago and he said he owns a Locutorio or something now.
We quit going there, the food was so bad. The rice was not cooked, the soups were lousy , everything was heavily salted and all the dishes tasted alike.
If they have changed back or something new has happened, we will definitely try them one more time.
I really liked eating there ..

dan January 9, 2011 at 20:11

Candice, as I said when you made the same comment a year ago, I just haven’t found it to be true. The same owner, who I’ve known for nearly five years now, is still there, most of the same waiters are there (a couple have changed, and that may include the one you mentioned), and the food has been just as good. We still go there roughly once a month and I’ve yet to have had a bad dish or bad experience, and still put it at the top of my Chinese heap for restaurants in town.

tom roth January 10, 2011 at 14:58

4 of us went Christmas Eve and it was fabulous. I definitely want to go back and have the “boiled fish”.

Gene December 12, 2014 at 10:13

Went by Shi Yuan on December 10 and it was still closed for renovation. Any idea if it will reopen at this location?

dan December 13, 2014 at 00:21

No idea. I last ate there in, probably, September, and there was no sign of it closing down. Does it still have the Shi Yuan name on it or does it look like they’re starting over with some new place?

Gene January 23, 2015 at 07:31

I have been by there a few times and there was no sign of any activity. Yesterday the front door was open, there were two folks inside working, and a sign in the window, which in my weak Spanish, I took to mean they intend to open on 1 de Marzo as a Comida de Peso (like a por kilo in Brasil?). There is no Shi Yuan sign. A week or so back I went to Beijing, El Salvador 5702, in Palermo which I had been told the Chef of Shi Yuan opened. The wait staff were former Shi Yuan staff, my dish (tirita de cerdo saltado) was identical to Shi Yuan, and the appetizer empanadas china al vapor came out 10 minutes after my entree – just like Shi Yuan. Beijing has adopted the cursed cubierto – 12 pesos.
On a different note keep up the fantastic work you do reviewing the local cuisine. Went to Arkakao for some gelato based on your recommendation and it was awesome. Thanks.

dan January 23, 2015 at 18:44

Thanks for the update – I’d noticed some renovation activity the last time I passed by, but there was no indication at the time if it was just renovation to reopen as Shi Yuan or as somewhere new.

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