The Spice is Right: Explore the Diversity of Regional Chinese Cuisine at Blue & Fly Asian KitchenFeb 26, 2021 11:50AM ● By Niz Proskocil
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Inconspicuously set in the corner of a strip mall on 72nd Street, Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen is easy to miss. Inside, it’s a simply decorated, cozy, casual space. The food here, however, is anything but ordinary. Since opening in 2015, the small, family-owned restaurant has earned a following for its rich variety of traditional Chinese dishes paired with Americanized versions of the cuisine.
While nearly everyone is familiar with broccoli beef, crab Rangoon, orange chicken, and other American-Chinese takeout favorites, traditional Chinese fare isn’t as easy to find locally. Blue & Fly owner and chef Yue Cong, who goes by Joe, opened the restaurant with a desire to share with customers some of the soups, stir-fries, stews, and braised dishes that are popular in China, where he lived before moving to Omaha in 2007. His cooking experience includes restaurants in China and his dad’s former restaurant in Omaha.
Blue & Fly’s menu features sections devoted to traditional dishes, including specialties from several regions of China that each have their own distinct cooking styles, along with more familiar Americanized dishes, which tend to be a little sweeter, fried, and heavily sauced. It took a while for the traditional Chinese offerings to catch on with some of his American customers, Cong said, but interest has grown as diners become more curious and adventurous.
He regularly updates the restaurant’s Facebook page with food photos and descriptions to help inform customers about what’s on the menu. For example, there’s a post that explains the differences between American-style and traditional kung pao chicken. Cong and his wife, Yi, along with the rest of the Blue & Fly staff, are happy to make recommendations and answer questions diners may have about some of the more unusual offerings.
I’ve enjoyed numerous dishes from both sections of the menu over the years, but my go-to items are still the traditional ones. A favorite is the Dry Braised Hot Pot Style Tofu and Cauliflower. The stir-fried dish features cauliflower florets combined with slices of golden brown, crispy-edged tofu, bell peppers, dried chiles, and Sichuan peppercorn. It’s a wonderfully spicy and aromatic dish with a gentle heat. It’s also offered with beef instead of tofu; both are excellent.
Tofu’s an ingredient I never tire of, and Blue & Fly does some delicious things with it. Among the highlights is mapo tofu—one of the most popular dishes from China’s Sichuan province. The restaurant serves two versions, but I always go for the traditional, which is listed on the menu as Bean Curd with Spicy Sauce. Delicate cubes of silky tofu glisten in a rich, deeply savory, spicy, scarlet-hued sauce, perfect for spooning over fluffy white rice. Although the dish has lots of lip-tingling chiles, it’s not volcanic. Fermented bean paste kicks the flavor up a notch, adding the savory depth.
Also impressive is Blue & Fly’s Hot & Spicy Wonton Soup—an appetizer that showcases the chef’s skill at creating classic Chinese dishes with bold, balanced flavors. Eight scrumptious, tender pork dumplings are submerged in a fiery brick-red broth laced with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. Each fragrant spoonful is a little spicy, salty, and sour.
Noodle lovers may want to try the Singapore Style Rice Noodles. A generous amount of super-thin rice noodles are stir-fried with slivers of carrot, onion, and cabbage, tossed with shrimp and sliced pork, and seasoned with curry powder, giving the aromatic, somewhat spicy dish a yellowish tinge.
Open for lunch and dinner six days a week, the restaurant has done limited dine-in since March 2020 and offers carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery. Cong updates the menu occasionally and sometimes offers weekly specials that highlight traditional Chinese cuisine. He said he hopes more people will give it a try.
It’s not easy running a restaurant, independent ones in particular. There are long hours combined with multiple responsibilities, and the coronavirus pandemic has made things a whole lot tougher. But all the hard work, Cong said, is worth it, adding that it’s gratifying to hear from customers who appreciate his food. He’s thankful for their continued support.
“I still appreciate that our customers give us the opportunity to be here,” he said.
With its broad menu, relaxed atmosphere, and friendly, knowledgeable staff, Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen is one of the area’s best dining destinations for Chinese food. Diners here will find a wide array of typical American Chinese standards that are fresh, flavorful, and well prepared. But the traditional dishes are the reason to visit.
Blue & Fly Asian Kitchen
721 S. 72nd St. - 402.504.6545
FOOD 4 stars
SERVICE 4 stars
AMBIANCE 3 1/2 stars
OVERALL 4 stars
Visit omahablueandfly.com for more information.
This article was printed in the January/February 2021 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.