Yao Restaurant and Bar

Michael Bai is the general manager of the new Yao Restaurant and Bar (1201 Fannin, 713-739-9267), which recently opened in The Houston Pavilions. He is originally from Taiwan and has known the Ming family since working for them at the other Yao's on the west side of town. "This is really an improved version of number one, with a sushi bar and more Asian fusion. It is more upscale and a fine-dining experience," says Bai.

We wanted to know if Yao Ming himself ever visited the place, and here's what Bai said: "Yao comes in, especially on weekends, and we prepare special dishes for him. Yao's favorite dish is the lobster salad, and for that we choose the special five-pound lobster."

The Ming family is trying to create a model for expansion and, as Bai says, "We want people to enjoy the Yao experience, and we're taking it slowly before we expand."

The restaurant has a dramatic black-and-red decor. Booths line the windows, and tables are set up in the main dining area. The first thing you see upon entering is the large sushi bar, which is a hint of what sets number two apart from number one.

The menu is an interesting mix of standard American Chinese fare, like sesame chicken and kung pao chicken, along with more exotic dishes like the braised abalone. Sushi rolls include the Yao Roll, with snow crab and black caviar, which proved to be a fabulous combination of flavors when topped with lobster.

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Paul Galvani