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Dec 01st
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Spring Flower

Dining_YanFlowerYan Flower dishes up a fresh assortment of unique Chinese delicacies at the southern end of Pacific Avenue

I don't often find myself in the South of Laurel section of Pacific Avenue, but when a friend described Hong Kong Noodles at Yan Flower I just had to try them. After all, the man is of Korean and Chinese heritage, and speaks with a New York accent.

In the back of the restaurant the owners converse in Cantonese. Yan Flower's well-kept yellow and green tiled building is roomy, clean, and simply decorated. Comfortable orange booths surround glass-topped tables, the windows are treated with pretty flowered valances, and the walls are papered with tasteful, contemporary swooshes in soft earth tones.

Nicely priced lunch specials ($3.95 to $5.95) include soup, a spring roll and steamed rice, but the full and lengthy MSG-free menu is always available. Specialties include a Half Roast Duck, Beef with Black Pepper Pots and Egg Foo Young. Daily specials might include Mongolian Lamb, and there is a large selection of tofu and vegetable entrées.

Twelve soups are served including Yanflower Spicy Won Ton, Egg Flower, and sizzling rice. I started with a cup of Hot and Sour ($1.50) soup. Served in a rather large clear glass bowl, the thickened chili-flecked broth contained slivers of bamboo shoots, threads of seaweed, and tofu.

The mix of appetizers includes Crab Cream Won Tons, Chinese Chicken Salad, Sliced BBQ pork, and Dumplings. The Sesame Balls ($2.95) are beautiful. Six perfect spheres the size of ping pong balls were deep fried until the neat coating of sesame seeds just began to tan and emit a nutty aroma. Biting into the thin, chewy dough revealed a center of sweet and savory Chinese red bean paste.

Hong Kong Noodles ($7.50) arrived on two plates; one holding thin, crisply fried noodles, and the other, stir-fried chicken with broccoli, bok choy, miniature corn cobs, crunchy water chestnuts, halved cloves of garlic and carrots in a rich, brown sauce that was not overly salty with soy sauce. When the stir-fry was poured over the noodles, some became chewy, and others remained crisp, offering a satisfying mix of textures.

Spicy dishes are highlighted on the menu in red ink, and the kitchen will adjust the heat to your specifications. One of these is Garlic Chicken ($6.95). Like the noodles, it was loaded with tender strips of white chicken breast. The spicy sauce had a unique sweet and sour flavor, and also included bamboo shoots, shredded carrot, green bell peppers and chili flakes.

I requested the extra-spicy treatment for Hunan Beef ($6.95). A halo of al dente broccoli surrounded a layer of bright white rice sticks; fried until airy and curly, and topped with pinkie-sized strips of deep-fried beef which was sprinkled with additional dried red chili. Although I had feared that I was full after soup, I couldn't stop savoring these chewy morsels coated in syrupy, sweet, and sour sauce.

Yan Flower, 617 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-2574. Beer and wine. Open daily 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Takeout available.

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