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The Artful Diner
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A TALE OF TWO SIBLINGS
(With Apologies to Charles Dickens)


Abacus
1551 Valley Forge Road
North Penn Marketplace
Lansdale, Pennsylvania
(215) 362-2010
Yantze
2333 West Main Street
Ralph's Corner
Lansdale, Pennsylvania
(215) 361-7600
abacus-chinese.com

Abacus and Yantze have a great deal in common. Both were originally established by Chef Shou Chen - the former in 1983, the latter in 1991 - and both continue to be operated by members of his family. Both are BYOB, decidedly diminutive, boast basically identical menus, do a brisk takeout trade, and make their homes in shopping centers. The only real discernible difference is in the ambiance. Whereas Yantze's atmosphere is rather elegant and subdued, Abacus strikes one as funky and fun, more bustlingly New York in its demeanor.

All of this may be mildly interesting, of course. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that both serve up excellent Chinese cuisine. Not everything is perfect; but, for the most part, the respective kitchens acquit themselves with suitable distinction. In addition, the service is first-rate, and the establishments strike one as squeaky clean - certainly not a minor consideration.

Seafood holds a prominent place on the printed menu, and the treasures of the sea are deftly prepared and beautifully presented. Jumbo scallops are sautéed and kissed by an ingratiating orange sauce; and shrimp dishes arrive at table in a variety of appetizing incarnations.

Bivalves and crustaceans notwithstanding, always lend an attentive ear to the "Fresh Catch of the Day," as this is, in my opinion, where the real action is. The orange roughy, for example, offers moist and meaty flesh embraced by a plumb sauce that caresses rather than smothers the object of its affection. But even better is the wild Pacific salmon filet. The fish is steamed and then invigorated with a splash of Grand Marnier and touch of lemongrass. Extraordinary.

The Peking duck is another highly recommended entrée. Rich, tender slices are presented tableside and then folded into crepes by your server and adorned with scallions and a pungent hoisin sauce. Another excellent effort on the part of the kitchen.

Some of the other items, however, do not seem to fare as well. Pork, for instance. The "King-Tu" rendition - morsels of pork tenderloin sautéed with a semi-spicy sauce - was decidedly tough and strictly generic of countenance.

Among the starters, soups are a particularly good bet. Whether the ubiquitous wonton, egg drop, or vegetable, all are worth sampling. I would, however, tend to cast my lot with the "triple delight" for two. Constituents include shredded chicken & pork and perfectly crunchy shrimp swimming in a first-rate chicken stock aided and abetted by Chinese vegetables and sizzling rice.

Appetizers here are generally excellent across the board with the steamed pork and vegetable dumplings leading the pack. The only disappointment proved to be the cold sesame noodle salad topped with shredded chicken. This had obviously been prepared well in advance, consigned to the nether regions of the fridge, and then not given sufficient time to throw off its gelid cloak. Once things warmed up a bit and flavors were allowed to come to the fore, all was well& Until that time, however, the dish was completely tasteless. .

Even though Abacus and Yantze major in more innovative Chinese cuisine, those with less adventurous palates may take heart, as all the usual suspects are still present and accounted for - chow mein, chop suey, egg foo young, combination platters, etc., etc. But what a waste! Let the two kitchens do what they do best and you will generally not be disappointed.

The Artful Diner
February 2009