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Yummy House lives up to its name
The new Chinese restaurant delivers dish after dish of excellently prepared food that is beyond the expected.
By LAURA REILEY
Published May 31, 2007
I promised myself I'd never use the word "yummy" in a restaurant review, but now my hands are tied. It's in the name of the restaurant - but more than that, it's a fair description.
Yummy House fulfills its obligation, its moral contract, to present patrons with uncompromisingly yummy dishes.
The 6-month-old strip-mall restaurant, on an unlovely stretch of Waters Avenue, purveys just about the best Chinese food I've had in years. The kitchen traffics in bright sauteed greens, still-crisp veggies, burnished-skin ducks and cracked crabs redolent of ginger and scallion, served to a mostly Chinese clientele.
Already, the place has a huge and devoted fan base, people who recognize that there's real Hong Kong know-how at work in the kitchen. It's packed on most nights, the simple square dining room loud with the raised voices of big families and gastronomic enthusiasm. Just slightly understaffed, the few waiters seem always at a near-jog, brusque but efficient in their task of bringing and taking away.
And to a one, I was thrilled with what they brought and a bit sad as they took the empty plates away. Soon our no-frills vinyl tablecloth was packed to capacity: two kinds of Chinese greens $9.50 each; on most nights they offer seven, but you have to ask, they're not on the menu, salt and pepper tofu ($5.99), Peking duck served in two dishes ($22, the priciest thing on the menu but worth it), an order of pan-fried pot stickers ($5.99), cashew chicken for the culinarily timid in our party ($7.50), a vast tureen of hot and sour soup ($8).
The soup, as it so often is, is a good place to start in getting at what makes Yummy House yummy. Good heat, clouds of egg and logs of slithery tofu - but what makes this version special is that amongst the wood-ear mushrooms are perfectly cooked shrimp and sea scallops. No way was this soup made in a bathtub-sized quantity and back-burnered for the duration.
The six-pack of pot stickers has a simple pork filling, crisp exterior and comes with a dusky five-spice dipping sauce. Like the movie, gone in 60 seconds.
A heaping tangle of garlicky ung choi (a water spinach with long stems) was the perfect, healthful foil for the platter of crisp duck skin - the ultimate guilty pleasure, you heap the skin on little marshmallow-looking buns, garnish with long scallions and a dab of hoisin. The rest of the duck meat sits on a platter nearby, lengths of duck braised with garlic and rounds of ginger. Also good, but your hand keeps creeping back to that duck skin.
The salt and pepper tofu may be the single best thing on the menu - no tofu piousness here. Little cubes are cornstarched and fried, then tossed in a salt and pepper mix that makes them look like gray bricks. The bricks sit on a bed of crisply roasted garlic bits, scallion and some other crunchies I couldn't identify. I defy tofu-phobes not to like them, their centers soft and with all that nearby crunchiness and spicy-salty flavor.
Even cashew chicken, often the vanilla-ice-cream-on-a-plain-cone of Chinese foods, was vibrant. Waffle-weave zucchini, tender crisp, carrot and baby corns mix with white-meat chicken in a pale, slightly smoky sauce, topped off with richly toasted cashews.
There's no booze; beverages are limited to sodas from the refrigerator case or strong black tea (you can BYOB for no charge). And for dessert, although it's a stretch for Western palates, a little cup of red beans swimming in a sweet coconutty milk is another thing that could accurately be dubbed yummy.
Laura Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment. Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2202 W Waters Ave., Suite 1, Tampa
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily; closed Tuesdays
Details: American Express, Visa, MasterCard; reservations accepted; no liquor