Curious gastronomes can find a gutsy introduction to the cuisine of southwestern China’s Yunnan province at Lotus Blue. Lounge music lulls this sultry space, with teardrop lanterns and a lotus-flower mural on a red wall.
The place has Chinese owners and a Chinese chef, though none are from Yunnan. Head chef Kian Lam Kho, a Singapore native with Chinese origins, is a culinary instructor and food blogger making his professional restaurant debut. He explores the same territory as Post does, but with a grittier take.
Kho serves a potato snack too—the tuber is a Yunnan staple—tossing fried matchsticks with herbs and dried chilies. And he offers his own spin on that classic chrysanthemum salad, drenching the leaves in a more complex sweet-salty mix of black vinegar, soy, garlic and chilies.
Honey-glazed duck, with juicy flesh under dark copper skin, is certainly tasty, but not terribly distinctive—there’s plenty to choose from that’s much more exciting. You’ve probably never had shrimp, for example, like Kho’s head-on monsters showered in a funky sweet-and-sour mix of chili oil and candied olives. The banana-blossom-and-sweet-mango salad, garnished with peanuts and mint, is a bright and refreshing taste of the jungle. And strips of pressed and smoked tofu stir-fried with pineapple hunks and garlic chives are just as intriguing. Even simple fried rice has unusual zip, from diced pickled turnips mixed with ground pork.
So much of this food functions like a culinary bellwether, foretelling the very small world the city’s becoming. As diners grow increasingly literate in international cuisines, it’s an exciting time to explore regional flavors making their New York debuts.
Eat this: Chrysanthemum salad, banana blossom salad, shrimp with candied olives, stir-fried smoked tofu.
Drink this: You should opt for an icy Sapporo over the sweet, clubby cocktails and the overpriced list of generic wines.
Sit here: The big table in the middle of the room is a prime spot for a big group banquet.
Conversation piece: The original Lotus Blue in Beijing serves Thai, not Yunnan, cuisine, but both restaurants were named for the Tintin adventure book The Blue Lotus (first published in 1936), which is set in China.
By Jay Cheshes