Our Gourmet: Bedford stalwart is as good as ever

July 25. 2017 11:52PM
Chen Yang Li's spicy Mala Wild Chicken. 
Chen Yang Li
124 South River Road, Bedford; 641-6922; www.chenyangli.com/Bedford/

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m..

Cuisine: Chinese.

Pricing: Appetizers, $5:50-$11.95; soup, $2.75-$8.95 entrees, $8.95-$16.95.

Scores for Chen Yang Li
Atmosphere: 18/20
Menu: 18/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 19/20
Value: 18/20
TOTAL: 91/100

We were over to Whole Foods in Bedford one recent weeknight, picking up some staples we can’t find in our regular supermarket, and remembered that just across the street is a fine Chinese restaurant.

Chen Yang Li opened years ago and was a hit, offering a more upscale atmosphere for area Asian dining, with a bright modern look both in décor and on the plate. We’re happy to say little has changed. Still there is the small bar as you enter, and the large dining rooms downstairs and above. Still there are the crisp white linens and friendly, helpful waitstaff.

The Dining Companion was excited at the fairly large number of vegetable options Chen Yang Li offers throughout its menu — the central reason she wanted to visit — and had her eye on two of the appetizers: the Cold Noodles in Peanut Butter ($5.50) and the Crispy Parmesan String Beans. We’ve been making our own peanutty take-out style noodles, thanks to a recipe Sam Sifton published in the New York Times; we love them, and were hoping Chen Yang Li’s dish would be similar.

Alas, when it came time to order, the DC forgot the noodles and asked for the beans and an order of steamed vegetable ravioli. She was delivered a small plate filled with the beans, golden from the parmesan, rendered crispy from the frying. They looked and handled a little like French fries, and were quite tasty. The DC was taken aback by both the parmesan and the dipping sauce offered. The cheese and the simple ranch dressing steered the dish away from Asian cuisine into the mundane. Instead, she commandeered some of the peanut sauce from Our Gourmet’s app to dip them in.

Our waiter, a kindly, attentive gentleman who fastidiously kept our water glasses filled throughout our meal, warned that the DC’s dumplings would take a little longer to prepare. They did, but not by much, with a half dozen plump dumplings coming to the table between the other apps and our main course. These steamed dumplings were doughy on the outside, and substantial, filled with mild, tender minced vegetables. Dipped in a garlic sauce, they were delicious, though a few made it home as leftovers.

Always a fan of the fiery, OG ordered up some Sichuan dumplings ($5.95), which the menu promised would be served in a hot, spicy peanut butter sauce. A dozen dainty dumplings in the shumai style, each with a dainty dollop of minced pork inside and slathered in a thick, creamy peanut sauce, were delivered. The sauce was indeed peanutty, but OG was underwhelmed by its spice, so much so that he offered a dumpling to the finicky FussBudget, who gobbled it up, declared it “good,” but refused another. He made no mention of a tingly tongue, his criticism to any hint of a warmer spice.

We were flummoxed as to what to order the FB, until we happened upon an option tucked under the pad Thai, fried rice and noodle section of the menu. There, far away from the soup offerings, was offered rice noodle soup ($9.95). We gambled and ordered the chicken version for the tyke.

A medium-sized, fancy black bowl arrived, brimming with pieces of chicken and thin, delicate rice noodles the thickness of angel hair pasta, all swimming in a very mild, though flavorful chicken broth like you’d get in a wonton soup. It was the perfect choice. Never have we been out with the FB when he became so quiet with concentration as he downed spoonful after spoonful of his meal, switching to his fork on occasion to capture more noodles. He actually was full, for once.

Sticking to her vegetables, the DC chose coconut curry vegetables ($10.95) for her entrée. Thins slabs of lightly fried tofu and still crisp stir-fried broccoli, bok choy, mushrooms and carrots came bathed in a delightful, light sauce with both coconut and curry flavors carrying the dish. Put atop a mound of vegetable fried rice ($8.95), the DC enjoyed several helpings with some left over for later.

Sticking with his love of hot and spicy, OG ordered the Mala Wild Chicken ($13.95). A dish large enough for two came filled with bits of dark-meat chicken, snow peas, carrots shavings, shitake mushrooms and bite-sized pieces of red pepper, all mixed with a delicious, brownish sauce flecked with tiny bits of sechuan pepper. Where the OG’s app had underwhelmed on the spice front, the Mala Wild Chicken more than made up the difference, producing a nice tingle on the lips and tongue and a few beads of sweat on the brow. OG traded off forkfuls of the fried rice as a respite, but devoured the entire dish.

A lot has changed over at the South River Road interchange. The Wayfarer is gone. Macy’s is gone. New businesses are building and opening. Amid it all, Chen Yang Li still stands. And delivers.

Our GourmetBedford

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