The Citiblog

A New Generation of Cantonese Cuisine Arrives at NYC’s YA0
January 23, 2024, 7:06.06 pm ET


Photos: YAO

Kenny Leung (below) is the executive chef and co-owner of YAO, along with Thomas Tang, which has assembled a team of 20 cooks to canvas and showcase Cantonese dishes from the past, present, and its future. The restaurant is focusing on the crown jewels of Cantonese cuisine - abalone, sea cucumber, and fish maw – textures less familiar to the American palate – that play starring roles at YAO, located at 213 Pearl Street in the Financial District. Leung and Tang also operate August Gatherings in Chinatown.

Chef Leung’s modern interpretations of traditional Chinese dishes include Salt-Baked Free-Range Chicken. Leung air dries the chicken, before wrapping it in parchment paper and basting it with old and new salt to give it a smoky flavor. Another dish, Fusilli with Wild Octopus and Bone Marrow, is a nod to Italy that is filled with umami flavors. Fried Rice with Roasted Eel employs techniques used by kings in ancient China, while Dry-Aged Tomahawk Steak is slathered with hibiscus and red wine sauce.

YAO also offers a tasting menu, called “Jia Yan,” a Chinese word loosely translating to “a celebratory family gathering” or “banquet”. It begins with an amuse bouche with chilled Jellyfish, balsamic, wasabi, and tangerine. Deep Fried Abalone wrapped in Gold Leaf follows, along with Shrimp Dumplings with Black Truffle. Charcoal and bamboo are used to give the dumplings a distinct black color.

Chef Leung also uses precision knife skills to create razor thin slices of tofu found in the Crab Meat Wensi Soup. Short Rib is tenderized with kiwi and drizzled tableside in a pear and oyster sauce. Fish Maw, rich with collagen, is pan-seared giving it a crispy skin and tender inside before being laid on a bed of Hong Kong style longevity noodles and wild mushrooms.

Guests will also find Portuguese Egg Custard Tarts that take eight hours to prepare with a flaky crust featuring more than 20 layers. For dessert, Fried Mochi Sesame Balls filled with red bean paste are offered with fuji apple sorbet.

Upon entering YAO, guests are greeted by a green jade fountain and crane sculptures, a symbol of longevity along with porcelain buddhas. There are several elegant dining spaces, including a Garden Room and large bar, with pictures depicting the Song Dynasty. Also, assisting the wait staff are robotic servers in a nod to the future.

For more information, visit