Can't decide what you're craving? Yi Lu House is infused
with the aromas of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and
yes, even China.
Hemmed in by a picket fence and covered
with wooden shingles, the humble Yi Lu House' Southeast
Asian restaurant features dishes from Indonesia, Thailand
and Vietnam. If that weren't enough, it also offers
a wide selection of Chinese home-style dishes (jiachang
cai). I initially scoffed at this blunderbuss approach
to the subtlety of Southeast Asian cuisine, in light
of the fact that these culinary choices are available
independently in Beijing. Yi Lu House begs the question
of when a one-stop restaurant is desirable. When every
dish is as fresh, authentic and delicious as the next,
Located across the street from the
Jing Guang Center (just inside the East Third Ring Road),
Yi Lu House is unfortunately overshadowed by its neighbor
Phrik Thai, the most popular Thai place in town.
But unlike its standing-room-only
neighbor, Yi Lu (which roughly translates as "warm house")
is considerably more low-key and there's always a free
table. Inside, the single oblong room with off-white
walls is tastefully decorated with watercolor paintings.
Popular Chinese music plays at a tolerably low volume
in the background. Despite its unassuming atmosphere,
Yi Lu draws an eclectic crowd composed of locals and
the international chic. It's a place where you're just
as likely to find a Chinese couple on their first date
as a cartel of young French professionals loudly kicking
off a weekend over beaucoup de satay.
I sift through the menu, which comes
with colorful photos of each dish labeled in English
and Chinese. It also lists countries of origin, prices
and includes a helpful "spice-o-meter" for those prone
to tastebud-burns. I suggest skipping the alcoholic
beverages, which are limited to your usual beers and
Chinese wines, and heading straight for the fresh juices-carrot,
coconut, watermelon and lemon, to name but a few. I
opt for the lemon, brought promptly by one waitress
as another helps take our order. In a very refreshing
way, here customer service clearly means more than bringing
you the check when you're done. In fact, I was stunned
when only after one request for rice, several steaming
bowls-full appeared within seconds.
We started our meal with Vietnamese
Pork and Beef Spring Rolls. The six rolls comprised
of rice paper, lettuce and meat were scrumptious, the
skin neither too cloying nor crisp. The pork and beef
were flavorful and tender, with a deft hint of crushed
After this came an aromatic bowl
of Thai Seafood Soup more commonly known by its Thai
name Tom Yum Kong. Served in a casserole dish on a hotpot
flame, this sunset orange broth of shrimp, mussels and
lemon grass was complex in textures and tangy in taste.
The soup was followed by Shrimp and
Noodle in an Omelette Pillow, a popular Cantonese dish.
The noodles are delicious eaten in small, hot doses.
But allow the dish to cool and it starts to congeal,
while the remaining egg sheath ultimately becomes a
flabby yellow sponge.
For our final course, we indulge
in Indonesian Mashed Potato and Beef Patties. These
doughnut look-a-likes somehow defy stodginess and are
wonderfully fluffy and light on the tongue.
Overseeing the busy kitchen is chef
Hou Dezhi. His rich personal background and well-travelled
past explains the diverse menu. His parents are both
Indonesian and his father-in-law is from Vietnam. During
visits there he was introduced to Vietnamese culinary
arts. In Hong Kong, Hou studied Cantonese cuisine, and
along the way he learned to cook Thai food. Four years
ago, he decided to grace Beijing with his skills and
soon thereafter began running the show at Yi Lu House.
The only frustration I have about
Yi Lu is that faced with all those choices inevitably
each time I go I either over-order or leave wishing
I had ordered more. The key is to stick to one ethnic
cuisine at a time. Or is it to choose only one dish
from each country? Or is it to Regardless, since the
place is open from ten in themorning until half past
three a.m., you'll have plenty of opportunity to experiment.