Dream cuisine

At Yume Buffet the name has more than one meaning

CREPE WALL OF CHINA It’s not every Chinese buffet that offers a crepe bar. Here Yume Buffet owner Gene Wan whips up one of his specialty strawberry crepes.

CREPE WALL OF CHINA It’s not every Chinese buffet that offers a crepe bar. Here Yume Buffet owner Gene Wan whips up one of his specialty strawberry crepes.

You can call it “yummy": Yume Buffet is located at 740 Mangrove Ave. Call 343-8219 for hours.

Been guessing the American dream is dead?

Guess again.

It’s alive and well at Yume (pronounced YOO-MEE) Buffet, next to Safeway on Mangrove. Not only is Yume the Chinese word for “dream,” but the restaurant is, actually, one man’s dream.

When Gene Wan came of age in Canton, China, he had a dream—to learn the restaurant trade so he could one day go to the United States and own a restaurant. Wan worked hard, but he was fortunate, too—his wife had relatives in the U.S., which made it easier for them to immigrate at a time when not many people were allowed to leave China. “I wanted a better future,” Wan explained. “I knew if I could get to the U.S., I could have it.”

Wan wanted more than just his own restaurant—he wanted freedom, too. In China at that time, people could not speak freely. Only relatively few received a high-school education, as Wan did, and even fewer went on to college.

Arriving in the Bay Area, Wan and his wife had only 20 American dollars. Wan worked first in San Francisco’s Chinatown and later in Oakland’s Chinatown and went to night school several nights a week after work so he could learn English and become an American citizen. Although he remarks again and again on how tough it was to learn English, he accomplished his goal. “But I’m still learning English!” he insisted.

After working several years for other people, Wan bought his first business in the Bay Area—a Chinese take-out restaurant. Before leaving the Bay Area, he had sold that one and bought and sold a couple of others. By that time, the Wans had two children. They moved to Chico, where he soon realized he had to change his “concept.” In the different Chinatowns, he explained, he worked in “real” Chinese restaurants.

Here, he had to develop a more “Americanized” version of Chinese food that would appeal to Chicoans.

My partner and I decided to try Yume because, for one thing, we had always wondered if it was pronounced “yummy.” Although it’s not, we found many of the buffet items “yummy"—and all for the affordable price of $8. “It’s reasonable—especially if you have a big appetite like I do,” my companion said.

We liked the various kinds of tempura the most, finding them satisfyingly ungreasy and light. My partner bravely sampled the sautéed octopi, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat creatures with eight legs. Yume offers a colorful array of rice and chow mein dishes, and I would go there just to get a bowl of the miso, tofu, and seaweed soup—which, in addition to being a delightful food, is probably very healthful as well.

What really struck us about Yume, however, was the sheer variety of offerings. Buffet table after buffet table of interesting Asian cuisine, some of it familiar, some of it not, fills up one side of the restaurant’s interior. We found ourselves wishing for labels on the dishes, as we weren’t always sure of what we were spooning onto our plates. One dish looked like “mussels au gratin.”

Explaining that while in the Bay Area he learned ethnic cooking other than Chinese, Wan expertly made the thinnest of strawberry crepes for us at his crepe bar. A favorite item among his regulars, he said, is the honey prawns. While the salad bar offered a superb crab salad, some of the lettuce leaves were a bit sad—probably due to the slow night (a Wednesday) we chose to go there. Yume offers clean tables, a pleasant wait staff, a private party room and authentic Oriental music.

Wan said he loves living in Chico, where people are friendlier than in the Bay Area. “When you are born in America, you are lucky,” he observed. “But when you come to this country, you can be lucky too!”

It starts with the dream.