High-Stakes Chinese Food
Are you feeling like a lucky diner? Pine Yard, a "poker" Chinese restaurant in Evanston is the solution. What I mean by "poker" is that there are some great dishes in this suburban Mandarin and Szechwan restaurant, but there are many poor dishes as well. If the customer is neither informed nor a regular, ordering is a big gamble; there are a few good dishes in a moderately large menu. Unfortunately, most of the time customers end up with the "losing hand", paying high prices for average-grade Chinese food, all the while enduring the below-average service (at peak hours, 5-8 on the weekends).
However, there are some excellent dishes here that regulars keep coming back for. Available only at dinner, the Mandarin Sizzling Rice soup ($6.25) is an excellent starter. Various vegetables and either chicken or shrimp is served in a chicken stock tableside, where the waitress adds fried rice cakes into the soup; the rice enhances the soup's texture and flavor, and of course adds the signature sizzling sound effect.
Another must-have dish only available at dinner is the Mu Shu Pork ($10.75 an order, four pancakes to an order). This is Pine Yard's one best dish; I've seen parties of people come in the restaurant only ordering different kinds of Mu Shu. Thinly sliced pork with vegetables and egg are all stir-fried, then wrapped in a homemade pancake with Chinese plum sauce (hoisin sauce). There are other variants of the Mu Shu dish if pork is a dietary problem; beef, chicken, and vegetable Mu Shu are all wonderful too.
Available at both lunch and dinner, the Szechwan Spicy Three Delicacies ($10.95 at dinner) is a definite favorite for many. Diced chicken, beef, and shrimp are served stir-fried with broccoli and red peppers. This dish has simple ingredients and a delicate sauce, yielding a light and delicious entree. Requests for a non-spicy version of this dish are accepted.
Mongolian Beef is easily a member of the staple Mandarin cuisine, but sadly more often than not consists of low-grade beef whose rancid taste is simply obliterated by a disgusting, heavy oyster-sauce concoction. Thankfully, at Pine Yard, the Mongolian Beef ($9.95 at dinner) is one of their best dishes. Beef and scallions are stir-fried in a light oil sauce, and are served over a bed of crispy rice noodles.
Although the prices are a little steep, by sticking to these four dishes there really is no gamble or risk of playing a game of "poker" with your food. I've been a regular at this restaurant for years. Although many of the dishes have changed in quality and price, these dishes are consistently great; they're like four diamonds in the rough. Even if you've paid Pine Yard a visit in the past, give it another shot with an informed slant. You won't be disappointed.
The décor is average. A glass window separates the kitchen from the dining area, which provides a nice view of the chefs preparing various dishes.