I went to O'Yeah Cafe on a tip from a friend who said the restaurant had a strong following of Chinese expats living in the West University and Kirby neighborhoods. While most Houston restaurants serving authentic Chinese food as well as some of the country's more unusual regional dishes are located outside the Loop, O'Yeah Cafe, he claimed, was among the few establishments circumscribed by 610 that had such offerings.
This fact is not readily apparent from the cafe's website, which heavily advertises Chinese-American classics such as vegetable lo mein and sweet and sour chicken as well as fried seafood platters and curry dishes. To see the restaurant's less tame entrées, you must click on the "traditional menu" link in very small text. Here's where the fun begins.
Many of the dishes are considerably spicier than those on the regular menu, such as the minced pork with translucent noodles and the Chinese eggplant and pork intestine, both of which are rated a formidable three peppers. Although those entrées definitely piqued my interest, I decided against them since recently my tolerance for spice has significantly declined. (I know, I know. The best way to regain my heat endurance is to eat spicy foods, but that particular evening I didn't feel like perspiring and coughing through dinner.)
Other attractive options included the cuttlefish with black fungus, shredded chicken with Thai pepper, and the ox tongue and tripe with peanut vinaigrette. Ultimately, I chose the confusingly titled "Napa Sauteed with Dry Shrimp," perhaps because it made me think of northern California, which made me think of wine tours, which made me think (nostalgically) about some wonderful chardonnays I tasted during a bachelorette trip to Napa Valley.
But I figured (correctly) that the dish involved not wine but cabbage. It's an ingredient I associate more with my own homeland than with China, so I thought, "Well, that should be interesting. And what's 'dry shrimp?'"
"Dry Shrimp," as you probably already guessed, referred to the dried baby shrimp liberally tossed with the shredded cabbage, made supple through the stir-frying process. The miniature prawns provided intermittent savory bursts of glutamate as well as some crunch that nicely complemented the vegetable's own lingering crispness.
This taste of some of O'Yeah's "secret" menu items definitely has me excited to try more; however, I'm a bit hesitant to return right away, if only because their prices have risen (the online menu does not reflect the most current changes) and the portions remain pretty modest. When I revisit, I'll bring friends to split the cost and maybe have a snack beforehand.
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