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Tres Yan and Wu: East Meets Best

by Brian Freedman; Photo by Douglas Bovitt
Tres Yan and Wu
3131 Route 38, Mount Laurel
(856) 608-8888
3 1/2 forks

So much can be discerned from an order of wonton soup. After all, most of us have sampled so many variations on the classic that it has become, if subconsciously, a metric by which Chinese restaurants can be compared. Judged on this scale, Très Yan and Wu—formerly Très Elena Wu—outperforms the vast majority of its competitors.

The broth is the key here, a deeply rendered, amber-hued, daily-made beauty that would have been sufficient even without the wontons—which were delicate and stuffed with a toothy grind of shrimp and scallions. Rather than just providing lubrication, it spoke of chicken steeping for hours, its richness awakened by the occasional snap of green onion and by those fabulous homemade dumplings.

This is the kind of surprise you’ll find throughout the menu at this friendly Chinese restaurant and sushi bar in Mount Laurel.

Elena Wu’s brother, executive chef/owner Paul Yan, now presides over the kitchen of this modern BYOB, which is midway through its second year in business. Yan, along with several relatives, took over the restaurant in November 2010, when Wu decided to resign. Yan, a Hong Kong native who earned honors as a young chef from the Hong Kong Federation of Food Service, has continued the family tradition admirably. He presents an eclectic mix of Chinese and Japanese cuisine, as well as excellent takes on traditional dishes.

For example, even the steamed dumplings, so often just a way to fill your belly while waiting for the more ambitious food to arrive, were remarkable. The menu describes them as being filled with pork, scallions and Napa cabbage, but that doesn’t remotely do them justice. The pork here had a beautiful smoky sweetness that, as good as it was tucked inside those steamed pockets of (slightly-too-thick) dough, would have been even better set against a fried exterior.

But Très Yan and Wu isn’t just a Chinese restaurant; it also ventures into the realm of pan-Asian fusion cuisine. While this is treacherous culinary territory that too often trips up inexperienced chefs, Yan manages his forays into this realm with grace. The sushi was invariably fresh—enough that it didn’t have to be served ice-cold, a trick lesser eateries use to cover up any minor “off” aromas. In fact, our waiter was so honest that, when I inquired about several of the fish on offer, he flatly told me which ones were freshest (and which were not).

When it comes to specialty rolls—often a pitfall for chefs who pack too many ingredients into a single creation—the ethos is restraint. “Fancy salmon roll,” for example, achieves a perfect balance of salmon tempura and cream cheese, anointed with wasabi, spicy mayo and eel sauce. The delicate use of cream cheese allowed the smokiness of the fried salmon to sing through with clarity and a richness of its own.

Mongolian lamb was another winning dish recommended by our server. We initially ordered pork, but he warned us that the slices of meat were too thin and occasionally arrived on the dry side. So lamb it was. Good thing we listened. The meat’s gaminess married beautifully with the gently spicy, deeply expressive sauce, and the lamb was impeccably moist.

The menu also dipped into Thai dishes; the pad Thai was competent but not very memorable. While it was cooked with all the right sweet and savory notes, a more generous sprinkling of cilantro and sprouts would have added the right hit of brightness. But that’s the only faint praise I can offer for Très Yan and Wu—a restaurant that’s operating at an elevated level right now, and succeeding at the goals set for itself. It may have a new name, but the quality here hasn’t changed one bit.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 5 (August, 2011).
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