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Article posted: 12/5/2012 6:00 AM

Authentic menu draws crowds to Yu's Mandarin


It's not shameful to admit that you may use your neighborhood Chinese joint to satisfy a late-night craving for something fatty, salty and probably uninterested in quality. It's there, it exists, and it's immediately regretful.

Yu's Mandarin isn't one of those places. If you go, prepare to feast on high-quality dishes. The restaurant, at 200 E. Golf Road, Schaumburg, insists on using fresh, wild-caught seafood and prime cuts of meat, so where a whole, salt and pepper lobster might seem a dubious choice at some restaurants, here it's a viable tempter.

Yu's isn't new. It's been around for nearly 20 years, but the only vague sign of wear and tear is the slightly faded, swirly homage-to-the-'80s carpeting. With seemingly endless seating, medium-height ceilings, brass railings and a kind of mirrored-dome entrance to the main dining room, Yu's melds somewhat disparate decor elements.

But it's another thing that'll get your attention upon entering: a glass vitrine adorned with boastful newspaper reviews from as far back as 1996, as well as handwritten notes from longtime fans, some of whom drive two hours for their favorite dish.

It's obvious by the crowd inside that this place is loved by Asian natives just as much as it's loved by anyone else.

The authenticity Yu's strives for also means we had to work a little to gain our server's approval. Her reserve was a sure sign of a place more interested in providing a legitimate, knowledgeable service than one that's a crowd-pleasing yes-to-everything.

She looked a little doubtful when we asked for the pickled cucumber salad.

"Are you sure? It's spicy."

When she finally understood that we weren't just looking for the common place orange chicken, she got into the spirit and even started recommending dishes.

Aside from Mandarin staples like Peking duck, the menu ventures into Korean territory with an entire section of offerings that includes jellyfish, as well as a sauted abalone, although the latter, at $65, will cost you.

What makes a marked impression almost immediately was that the food, prepared by a row of white-clad chefs beyond a sweeping glass wall that spans the length of the dining room, was vastly more than the sum of its parts.

Following the necessary heat of a hot and sour soup, we opted for a dry-rubbed cumin chicken -- a consummately addictive appetizer with subtly sweet notes.

Don't be thrown off too much by the laminated menu of specials or the regular one with close-ups of select entrees that bleed off the page.

There's a sophistication that lurks just below the surface, and you may very well have to make your way through the menu a few times to spot the gems, even if your server is waiting a bit impatiently at the edge of your table expecting you to order the broccoli beef already.

Spot the spicy squid salad -- cold, near-blinding white rings dotted with peppers, parsley and onions. Or the salt and pepper shrimp -- tucked on the "Chinese Specials" portion toward the back of the menu. Order it with or without the shells and you'll get meaty crustaceans not so much breaded as rubbed in salt until a slightly coarse encasing is created. The flavor is deep and muted.

Look among the more saucy offerings and find the winter-perfect beef casserole. Presented in a deep, wide bowl filled to the brim, it can sate merely with a look but thankfully, it doesn't have to. Packed with leeks and kimchee, and topped with large beef slices soaked in a thick, fiery-orange broth, it's hot, juicy and delicious.

Small textural touches provide pleasurable crunch and make all the difference. You'll notice bean sprouts and spring onion in the beef casserole, thin slices of bamboo shoots in a crowd-pleasing favorite -- the high pile of the spicy Xian-Ping pork; and long, slender cucumber slivers in the near pitch-black bowl of the most interesting dish we tried -- the black bean noodles with pork and shrimp.

The latter turned the slightly chewy, spongy house-made noodles almost the same impenetrable black, and yet they retained their integrity while absorbing the strong, fermented flavor of the black bean sauce.

A pitcher of hot tea, brought to every table before the meal, is a perfect palate cleanser that you'll be well-advised to utilize.

At the end, even our server was rooting for us and the eight bags of leftovers we brought home.

Ÿ Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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