One of the truly great flavors of this life is roasted meat over plain white rice. There's just something about it. The roast sweats its excess juice onto the rice, as the starchy grain greedily absorbs it, balancing the heavy taste.
You'll find the simple combination throughout cultures, around the world. Now Chef Steven Chin brings the specific richness of Cantonese barbecue to the Northeast Alberta restaurant corridor, via his recently opened takeout-only restaurant YāYā PDX.
Each recipe you'll find at YāYā PDX is a loving homage to the flavors Chin grew up tasting in Manhattan’s Chinatown—where his grandfather owned a grocery store that also sold barbecue.
The roasts at YāYā are painstakingly prepared over the course of three days. So when they first opened, they repeatedly sold out. Despite Northeast Alberta's gentrified population, the spot seemed to draw both the Cantonese barbecue curious and the roast duck appreciative.
"A lot of people—particularly Asians—came in saying things like, 'Finally, a duck house in the neighborhood,'" Chin said via a phone interview.
There are restaurants serving Cantonese barbecue downtown and out on 82nd Avenue in the city's Jade District. However, YāYā PDX was intentionally set up as a space for both the nostalgic and the uninitiated.
"We've changed some of the traditional methods," Chin explained. "We remove more of the bone because our customer base isn't used to having that in chopped up meats." Other changes—like rending more fat from the barbecue—are based on Chin's own tastes and direction as a chef.
The other setback of the weekend was the Pacific Northwest's record-setting heat wave. "Our air conditioning worked, so our staff stayed cool," Chin said. "But the customers were melting."
Brainstormed and built out during the pandemic—in partnership with local restaurateur Micah Camden—YāYā PDX has no indoor dining areas. Their strictly to-go model is important to note because initially some of the dishes didn't travel well. Anything crispy—the egg rolls, for example—steamed up in the to-go container and went limp. Chin said they're already adjusting the menu—swapping out the 5 Spice fried chicken for a red, braised pork belly with soy glaze.
Though a small aspect of the overall operation, YāYā's house-made side pickles—zucchinis and carrots that arrive with most dishes—deserve praise. The refreshing, sour notes add a brighter dimension to each dish.
YāYā's approach to pork—particularly their Char Siu—is deeply crave-worthy. Juicy and tender on the inside, the Char Siu's outside glaze is slightly sweet without overpowering the pork's flavor. "We're really nailing that one," Chin said with pride.
YāYā, 1451 NE Alberta, (503) 477-5555, yayapdx.com