Shrimp Balls and Chococat Coitus

Photo by Jessica CalkinsSo here I am, back from summering in Reykjavik, as I always do from May till Labor Day—that Icelandic air being such a lovely tonic for my chubby pink flesh—and what's the first thing I read in the local rags? Seems California's future fhrer, the irrepressible Herr Shvontzenegger, has had his dirty laundry exposed by Oui magazine, circa 1977. Therein, the pre-Conan muscleman admitted to enjoying hashish and marijuana as well as the occasional semipublic gang bang with his gym buddies and any willing wench.

Not that I care a whit about such revelations. But it occurred to me that since I enjoy a trusted position as your ever-flabby food critic, I should come clean about my own sexual peccadilloes. Yes, I too have engaged in group gropes, albeit not with livingpartners. I'm talking about prolonged nekkid romps with my extensive collection of plush toys. Sanrio characters are my faves. Hello Kitty, Bad Badtz-Maru and Chococat, par example,are all so accommodating when it comes to a fat man's special needs.

Loving stuffed animals means never having to say you're sorry, so apologize I will not. Instead, having exposed myself completely to you my beloved audience, I will get on with my latest culinary adventure: Yujean Kang's Asian Bistro.

A chichi, black-and-red-themed establishment with bamboo shades, a profusion of candles, and stylish, framed reproductions of '30s-era Chinese adverts, Yujean Kang's is an oasis of elegance. Soft-spoken waitresses in long aprons offer attentive service; classical piano is piped throughout. Clean, white-linened tables are set with square porcelain dishes atop bamboo place mats.

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The cuisine is nouvelle Chinoise, with imaginative touches that've won Yujean Kang's a following at its Pasadena and West Hollywood locations. Though this spot has been open less than a year, I can assure you from my experience that it deserves a similar reputation for excellence.

To accompany my bottles of Tsingtao, I chose three starters: roasted seaweed, Korean-style; Chinese onion pancake; and something called Celebration Shrimp Balls, which I assume is a cause for celebration for the customer, not the shrimp. What exactly was "Korean" about the seaweed was lost on me, since I've had such flat, dry seaweed rectangles in other Asian restaurants without thinking of them as Korean. But they were tasty nonetheless, stacked like a deck of cards on its side.

I took issue with the Chinese onion pancake, as it seemed harder and chewier than it should have been. Still, it wasn't inedible. As for the shrimp balls, let me say they're the best shrimp balls I've ever tasted, unless I count the time I met one of the Three Stooges in a bathhouse. The balls were simply the shrimp themselves wrapped in thin, crispy dough and sporting a frizzy Afro of noodles one had to shear off to eat.

For entres, I selected the tea-smoked duck and the jumbo prawns in honey-mustard sauce. The waitress brought the duck to my table and prepared four burritos by wrapping the sliced body of the fowl in crepes. Two drumsticks were added to this, and a bowl of plum sauce was provided as a condiment. I was surprised to discover the duck was served cold. Still, the taste of the bird, specially prepared in a tea-burning oven, was exquisite, a true delicacy.

The jumbo prawns came smothered in a light sauce that fortunately didn't overwhelm the prawns themselves. Heads of baby bok choy were neatly arrayed on the platter like little green octopuses. And it was all topped with light brown, quarter-dollar-sized flakes of Parma ham, further proving my theory that no matter how delicious the recipe, pork—in whatever form—will make it more so.

Of my two desserts—Mandarin orange cheesecake and honey-ginger ice cream—the latter was most memorable. I'm a sucker for ginger, and the two scoops of the gelato-like ice were heavy on the golden root. My mouth was ablaze with ginger as I headed home to my harem of stuffed critters and a night full of furry frottage. Judge not, friends. Unlike Arnie's romps, my sex is safe.

Yujean Kang's Asian Bistro, South Coast Plaza (next to Robinson's May), 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Open Mon.-Fri., 11:30 A.M.-9 P.M.; Sat., 11:30 A.M.-8 P.M.; Sun., 11:30 A.M.-6:30 P.M. (714) 662-1098. Dinner for two, with appetizers, $65. Beer and wine. Major cards.

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