Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
Chef Yang 46
1105 US Rt 46 (East)
Clifton, New Jersey 07013
During our many years living in Manhattan we spent considerable time in Chinatown, indulging in the vast number of styles and tastes known collectively as Chinese cuisine. And while we enjoyed most of them, our favorite were dishes from Szechuan kitchens (but easy on the spice). After relocating to New Jersey we tried without success for a long time to find the same quality of Chinese cuisine that we were used to. Well hope springs eternal and voila our quest has finally been successful… enter Chef Yang 46.
Chef Yang 46 is the brainchild of Dinggen Wang, a well-established and critically acclaimed restaurateur, and Jiaqing Yang, a Chengdu native boasting over 30 years of culinary excellence. The Route 46 location was previously known as Chengdu 46, a Szechuan restaurant already well-loved locally, but after 20 years it was closed. The duo bought the restaurant and reimagined it into a contemporary well-designed venue spilt into 3 attractive areas: a private room for parties and gatherings, colored in warm tones; a full bar area; and an attractive dining room decorated with white granite walls punctured by purple flowers (unfortunately not real but nevertheless effective). The overall discreet lighting is not only sufficient to read the menu but also to enjoy the carving of Peking Duck or the shredding of Pork with Sizzling Rice at tableside. The floor is black, as are the spacious leather-clad banquets that line the walls, and tables are laid with white cloths.
Chengdu is the third largest city in Szechuan Province renowned for its spicy cuisine and splendid natural wonders, not to mention a Giant Panda Research center which may account for their focus on black/white design elements. The black and white décor is accented by decorative Chinese arts and the overall effect is warm and inviting… as is the staff.
While Szechuan food is known for its spicy components, all Chinese food is majorly flexible and by mixing and matching a variety of ingredients any number of dishes can be achieved… the trick is the quality of the elements used. Chef Yang 46 specializes in versatile Szechuan-centric cuisine, in other words dishes that are delicious and artfully presented - even if not strictly authentic Szechuan - making dining there a very pleasant experience.
We began dinner with two favorites: pork wontons in a lightly-spicy red chili oil and Xiaolongbao (known as juicy pork buns or soup buns). Both were exceptional and the xiaolongbao was the best either of us had tasted since visiting one of the internationally famous Din Tai Fung restaurants in Taiwan a few years back.
Another of our favorites is duck and Chef Yang offers 2 great tasting duck dishes; the well known Peking Duck that many Chinese restaurant will offer and another dish that we encountered mainly during our Mainland China trips, Tea-smoked Duck. We decided to order the tea-smoked dish and we were not disappointed!
The dish came with 4 milk-bread pancakes; they looked hand-made and were a little more substantial than the thin, commercially made pancakes we have been used to in other restaurants. The platter was also decorated with a hand-carved duck made from a very large turnip and carrots. Hand carving vegetables has been an ephemeral art mostly practiced in better Asian restaurants.
Our meat selection was beef, two tastes. The platter came with a lovely, aromatic orange beef in orange-colored sauce with lots of orange rind slivers on one side and on the other beef with asparagus in a brown sauce. Both tastes were indeed exceptional and the beef was tender and well marbled, as I could see from the asparagus paired meat, while the orange-flavored meat was covered with a thin breading and double fried so I could not see its marbling.
One think that I noticed was that the restaurant offers a number of dishes where the main ingredient, meat or seafood is prepared in two different and distinct ways (like the beef dish above) and allows the palate to enjoy the different tastes.
The final dish was prawns out of the shell two ways, one prepared crispy/salty but not spicy, the other also crispy/salty but considerably spicy with lots of chili pepper powder in the breading. Again, the same main ingredient prepared two ways, giving two very different tastes.
We finished our dinner with ice-cream: green mint with chocolate as well as coarsely grated coconut meat in a coconut ice-cream.
We will definitely be returning to Chef Yang 46. They make Chinese food the way we really like it!
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