October 10, 2005 | Ask Gael

Will whimsy curdle my udon noodles?

       Yumcha, closed in August when the original chef decamped, is born again, more Chinese and less Pan-Asian in the gifted hands of Ten Vong. A veteran of Guastavino’s and Charlie Palmer’s kitchens, he grew up in family-owned Chinese restaurants in Baltimore. It was easy, Vong says, to dream up Chinese dishes for the 21st century - the same sophisticated new cuisine celebrated now in Shanghai and Beijing. Vibrant evidence are the luscious udon-noodle salad with citrus sorbet, and delicate lobster shumai with crème fraîche and caviar making calligraphy on the plate. The challenge, Vong says, was divining menu prose to evoke a Chinese aesthetic. Such blatant cuteness might annoy if the food weren’t so good. A smartly tart pomegranate-and-vodka Red Dragon puts me in the mood to be amused by “Concubine’s forbidden pleasure” (those noodles), and “Fisherman wanders hither,” ethereal scallops in a water-chestnut broth with pork belly. What we are eating is impressive and reasonably priced: maple-glazed five-spiced quail; Peking duck revisited (“Red Emperor returning North”); and ginger-lacquered veal cheeks, a.k.a. “Maiden contemplating fields of eternal spring.” I’m betting it won’t be easy to get a table in this spiffy little Village jewel box once word gets around.

29 Bedford St. at Downing St. 212 524 6800