More Modern Dim Sum

Restaurant: Xino [1, 2]

Location: 395 Santa Monica Pl, Ste 308, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 755-6220

Date: April 1, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Dim sum

Rating: Ordered lighter this time for a delicious and reasonable meal.

 

Another gorgeous 78 degree LA day, with that perfect mix of warm and ocean moisture in the air. So we headed back to Xino, one of the new promenade restaurants with a huge roof deck and somewhat modernized Dim Sum. For my first review, click here. Our first time we had a few issues all of which we managed to avoid here. We had ordered too much food, as the individual dishes, despite being dirt cheap, are fairly large. There’s also a lot of fried stuff on the menu, so if you want a bit lighter, order carefully. Still, it’s all tasty.

Xino has a really nice deck. You can see the couch-style booths in the background too.

Again we ordered straight from the extremely reasonable Dim Sum menu. This is all Hong Kong style small plates. There are no carts, but it’s made to order. This time we made sure to specify in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that they needed to bring out the dishes slowly (last time they hit us with 11-12 simultaneously!). They brought them one at a time today and it was no problem.

Notice also that the fried section is much larger than the steamed section, and that the specialties are also mostly fried. They’re good, but you have to know what you’re getting. We tried to order only a couple fried things.

Condiments. Chinese mustard, hot sauce, and soy sauce behind.

“Shrimp Dumpling ‘Ha Gow‘ Shrimp, Bamboo sShoots, Rice Wrap.” Classic Cantonese dumplings. Good examples of the type.


“Shanghai Dumpling, Pork, Ginger, garlic, Vinegar & Ginger.” These are basically the classic soup dumplings, but very good examples of the type, and nicely served with the vinegar in the little cups so that they don’t break apart on the steamer. Wow!

“Crispy Chili Calamari, Jalapeno Vinaigrette.” These were seriously tasty. The fry was heavy, but deliciously and a bit sweet, as was the jalapeno sauce. In some ways almost like a desert, but yummy.

“Salt & Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, fresh chili, spring onion, toasted garlic.” This is Xino’s take on the classic (chinese) lightly friend shrimp. The traditional version has a bit less fry, but requires you to peel the shell to eat them. These have been pre-shelled which is nice. Certainly tasty, and good with both the mustard and the jalapeno sauce above.

“Shrimp & Chives potstickers, shrimp bamboo shoots, chives.” These were nice, a bit lighter than the classic pork potsticker (which they also make).

“Pork Siu Mai, Pork, Shrimp, Shitake, carrots, Egg Wrap.” Another typical dim sum dish, executed very well.

“Seafood Spinach Dumpling, shrimp, spinach, bamboo shoots, rice wrap.” These slightly green fellows are a little different. There was a lot of shrimp in there, but it did taste slightly fishy. Not bad, but the pairing with the spinach also was just slightly funny. Personally, I think these would be awesome with basil instead, or even a bit of pesto — but that’s modern me.

“Baked Pork Buns, sweet pork in glazed flaky baked bun.” These were a slightly new take on the classic that really worked. The sweet red BBQ pork inside was very typical, but what was different was the crispy light AND SWEET outer shell. It reminded me of a Beard Papa cookie shell!

This is a photo of the pastry cookie shell from Beard Papa, it wasn’t at Xino, but it was awfully similar to the pork bun! Still, the pork bun really worked. Sweet on sweet, with a nice interplay of crunch/flaky with the gooey meat.

“Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice, ‘Lo Mai Gai’ egg, chinese sausage, dried shrimp.”

Examine the goodies inside. Good, although the more traditional Palace (review here) has a very slightly tastier version.

Not only is the food good, but look at the price! $47 (with tax) for all that food! I think Xino might be even cheaper than the traditional Dim Sum in the area!

For another Xino meal CLICK HERE.

For a review of traditional west side Dim Sum, CLICK HERE.

Quick Eats – Gladstones by the Sea

Restaurant: Gladstones [1, 2]

Location: 17300 Pacific Coast HwyPacific Palisades, CA 90272. (310) 454-3474

Date: Jan 18, 2011

Cuisine: American Seafood

Summary: Updated classic coastal seafood

 

Just 48 hours after our Sunday trip down the coast to Paradise Cove (REVIEW HERE), the incredible January weather was holding in fine form. 80 degrees, sunny, nice breezes. I had heard that SBE, the food/club group which operates the awesome Bazaar (REVIEW HERE) had bought Gladstones down at the end of Sunset. Now I’d never been too partial to Gladstones, even though it’s nicely located. Despite the great view, it never made the best of it and the menu was a bit old school, over priced, and leaned toward the fried and over-sized.

They didn’t change the look too much, but it’s not much to complain about.

The menu, click as usual for larger.

And page 2.

We decided to try both chowders. First the manhattan. Not bad, broth like a Cioppino.

The New England. Not as good as Paradise Cove actually. Too much like canned stuff, i.e. thin.

The impaled sour dough was cool though.

When I’d come here in the 90s I used to get the “coconut shrimp,” which were fried. In their update of the menu they have replaced them with this. Those are shrimp with rice and dried coconut, in a kind of thai peanut red curry. Oh wow. They tasted great! I mean I always like red curry (HERE, FOR A THAI PLACE REVIEW), but this was pretty damn succulent. Not exactly what I expected, and very rich, but damn good.

Since my Paradise Cove meal had just whet my seafood tower appetite, and I now had a partner in shellfish slaying crime, we went for the 2 person cold seafood extravaganza. This WAS better than it’s equivalent at Paradise Cove. Not the best tower I’ve had, but good. Scallops, shrimp, oysters, clams, lobster with avocado cerviche, Alaskan Crab legs, and the sauces: Cocktail, tartar, and vinaigrette. Everything was great except for the crab legs which tasted too frozen.

But again the biggest winner was the view, and the weather. January!  East Coasters look and weep.

Another shot of the porch.

The menu certainly hasn’t been radically redefined. It’s gotten a bit of an update, and the quality has risen. Still, it would be neat to see what someone really creative — like Jose Andres! — could so with the beach side restaurant concept.

For a second review of Gladstones click here.

Finally, Modern Dim sum in Santa Monica

Restaurant: Xino [1, 2]

Location: 395 Santa Monica PlSte 308Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 755-6220

Date: February 7, 2011

Cuisine: Modern Dim sum

Rating: A little heavy, but I’m glad to have some more good dim sum on the westside.

 

Xino is another of the new Santa Monica Place restaurants. I detail the whole deal with the new mall and it’s transformation in my Zengo review.

This one is more or less Chinese, but a sort of modern Chinese, and at lunch they serve real dim sum!

View from the patio. Lunch, on a monday, February. 79 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

My brother presents the dim sum menu. This place is a lot like Ping Pong (REVIEW HERE), the modernized  dim sum I went to in Washington DC. It doesn’t have the traditional cart format, like The Palace (REVIEW HERE). This has advantages and disadvantages. The carts allow more control over the pace of the meal, but made to order is fresher.

Chinese mustard, chili, there was also soy and various sauces served with different dishes.

“Chili Spare Riblets, Sweet Chili Sauce, Asian Slaw.” These were pretty meaty, but fried up like orange beef. Gratuitous, but pretty darn tasty.

“Shrimp and Mango Dumpling, Ground shrimp, mango, firecracker sauce.” Crunchy wanton fried, tasty shrimp and mango inside, and a zesty soil garlic scallion sauce. What’s not to like.

“Shrimp Dumpling ‘Ha Gow‘ Shrimp, Bamboo sShoots, Rice Wrap.” Classic Cantonese dumplings. Good examples of the type.

“Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp, black bean sauce.”

Crab Rangoon, Cream Cheese, Sweet Vinegar Reduction.” Not the totally typical rangoon, at least the sauce. Good though, and more filling than most examples. The sweetness of the sauce went nicely with the fry and the cheese.

“Kung Pao Chicken Lollipop, Sweet and Tangy, Crushed Cashews.” This was my least favorite dish, not that it was bad, but it was a little heavy, like hot wings crossed with that nut crusted chicken you sometimes get on the airplane. Very fried.

“Salt and Pepper Soft Shelled Crab, Fresh Chili, Spring Onion, Toasted Garlic.” This was some good crab. The only problem was that it cooled so fast. Basically, fried soft-shell. Nothing wrong with that.

“Candied Walnuts & Honeyed Prawns, Orange Zest & Frisee.” This is a variant of the classic prawn, walnuts in the sweet mayo sauce. This one is lighter, zestier, very yummy.

“Shanghai Dumpling, Pork, Ginger, garlic, Vinegar & Ginger.” These are basically the classic soup dumplings, but very good examples of the type, and nicely served with the vinegar in the little cups so that they don’t break apart on the steamer. Wow!

“Lobster Potstickers, shrimp, pan fried crisp.” These were some pretty awesome potstickers, typical on the outside, nice yummy lobster on the inside.

“Pork Siu Mai, Pork, Shrimp, Shitake, carrots, Egg Wrap.” Another typical dim sum dish, executed very well.

“Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice, ‘Lo Mai Gai’ egg, chinese sausage, dried shrimp.”

Open the little packet of joy.

Examine the goodies inside. Also an excellent example of type, one of the best I’ve had.

Cool couches and booths on the patio. Pretty slick spot. And the food was pretty tasty, and reasonable. The above feast was only $66 including tax! What makes the real difference here is that they have a real Hong Kong dim sum chef — so despite the corporate trappings and location, and the slightly jazzed up variants, this is some solid dim sum.

For a second Xino review, click here.

Quick Eats: Brentwood

Restaurant: Brentwood

Location: 148 S Barrington Ave Los Angeles CA 90049. 310-476-3511

Date: Jan 9, 2011

Cuisine: American

 

Brentwood is a local bar/restaurant perfect for the Sunday night with-the-kid dinner. It’s pretty straight up American, very tasty, but a bit overpriced. The menu can be found here.

Their bread is good. I (and my two year-old) particularly liked the flat cracker-like bread.

“Tomato & Farmer’s Market Vegetable Salad.”

“Swan Depot Seafood Salad, jumbo shrimp, baby Maine shrimp, Dungeness crab,iceberg lettuce, 1000 island dressing, fresh dill.” This is essentially a crab and shrimp Louis salad. The seafood is very fresh, the dressing good, so if you are partial to Louis (and I am), then that’s all a good thing.

Fish & Chips, beer battered Alaskan halibut, fries, tartar sauce.” While overpriced, this is a very good fish and chips. The fish is very most and well cooked, the batter perfect, the fries crisp, and the tartar sauce very tangy.

“Short Rib Tacos, vegetable rice, black beans.” Interesting hybrid dish. Fresh corn tortillas, and soft rich short rib.

Paired with beans, creme fraiche, and pico de gallo. I had them cook the pico down because of my raw tomato hate. It tasted like oniony tomato soup.

Combined in the taco it was pretty delectable, mostly because of the rich tasty short rib. Perhaps a little avocado or cilantro might have made this perfect.

The small little bar. Not pictured here is that I had a nice “2006 Sancerre, Rolland Tissier et Fils.” A very crisp white, perfect with the salad. Not absolutely ideal for the short ribs, but it worked well enough.

This is a good little place, and the service is very accommodating. Despite the high price tag the kitchen has a “knack,” so I approve.

Christmas is for Dim Sum

Restaurant: The Palace

Location: 11701 Wilshire Blvd, Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA.  310-979-3377.

Date: Dec 25, 2010

Cuisine: Chinese Dimsum

 

As we don’t celebrate Christmas, and very few restaurants are open, Chinese is a long standing tradition. These days we go to Dim Sum. For those of you who have lived in a culinary hole for the last couple decades, Dim Sum is a Cantonese brunch tradition in which tasty little delectables are served on carts. Dim Sum is hard to find on the westside, and this particular place recently changed owners and names. It’s actually slightly better in its current incarnation, although they may offer less items at current. This is a pretty traditional or classic implementation of the cuisine. Last month I reviewed Ping Pong in Washington DC which offered a more expensive but updated variant.

This, for example, is the “fried stuff” cart.

And this young lady is organizing some of the “steamed stuff” carts.

There are condiments too. Vinegar, Chinese mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, and tea — which isn’t really a condiment but is certainly present at every Chinese meal I’ve ever had.

We don’t go in so much for the fried, but these are shrimp and scallop rolls with sesame seeds.

Shrimp and scallop dumplings (pounded rice batter) with cilantro.

Vegetarian dumplings shaped like Hamantash.

One of my favorites — and readily available. Pork shumai.

Another classic, Har Gow. These are shrimp pockets. They are very light. Dim Sum is also often VERY hot in a physical sense. Seared oral tissue is a significant hazard.

Shrimp, scallop, and some other green.

Shrimp and scallop. You may notice a trend.

Curried shrimp balls. This is shrimp chopped up, reconstituted, and covered in curry sauce.

Tofo stuffed with vegetables. Surprisingly tasty.

Another classic, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf.

Inside is a blob of rice filled with various bits of meat, vegetable, and egg.

These are pork “crepes” (ripe noodles). As I’ve been eating Dim Sum for over 30 years, as kids we used to call this “slime” (we meant it as a compliment). It has a jiggly consistency. I still love it. They come in various “flavors,” this one being “pork slime.” “Shrimp slime” is also ver popular. The sauce is a somewhat sweet soy.

Steamed pork buns. These fluffy rice flower buns are stuffed with a red tinted BBQ pork. Essentially they are BBQ pork sandwiches.

For desert pineapple bun. These buttery pastries are stuffed with a very yolky egg custard.

Same place, new sign. This is solid Dim Sum. I’ve certainly had better, but in LA you have to travel pretty far east for amazing Dim Sum. The current chef also makes some really really good “soup dumplings,” but they ran out on Christmas eve and none were available. We were crushed. Four of us also pigged out (or maybe shrimped out) for $67.

Food as Art: Ping Pong

Restaurant: Ping Pong

Location: 900 7th Street NW. District of Columbia 20001. 202-506-3740

Date: Dec 01, 2010

Cuisine: Chinese Dim Sum


I’ve been going to Dim Sum for thirty-odd years, and it’s long been one of my favorite cuisines. Basically, this follows from the “law of appetizers,” which reads: “appetizers are always better than the main course.” Dim Sum is all “appetizers.” Ping Pong represents a modernization of the traditional Dim Sum concept. There are no carts, everything is made fresh to order, and there are modern variants on traditional favorites. Most of this is good, and they did a great job. The only downside is that it’s about twice as expensive as a hole-in-the-wall traditional place. However, particularly if you have a vegetarian in the party (traditional Dim Sim is nigh on impossible to appreciate as a vegetarian), it can be worth it.

The menu and our order. I like this “check your order” type menu, like an old school sushi menu.

Jasmine tea, the way they do it in China. The ball expands.

Into a pretty flower. Ping Pong has a very extensive drink menu, alchoholic and non.

Sauces are essential at Dim Sum. These are two kind of chilies. They had good soy, vinegar, etc. The odd missing one, which we asked for, but they didn’t have, was Chinese mustard. I love Chinese mustard.

Baked pork puff. This is a standard, and they did a great job of it. The pastry was buttery, and the pork sweet.

Here is an example of a welcome “modernization.” A vegetable puff. Same dough, but inside was honey-roasted vegetables. These did a pretty good approximation.

Vegetarian spring rolls, with a very nice sweet and sour sauce.

Spare ribs. Ultra soft (and fatty), with a very nice sweet flavor.

Asian leaf and three mushroom salad.

Crispy hoisin duck rolls. Tasty. Who could tell what was inside, but it had a nice meatiness to it. Like a duck taquito.

The tower of steamers begin to arrive. I personally love the steamed dumplings best of all. In China I had a 64 course Tang Dynasty style Dim Sum meal that was one of the best meals of my life.

Classic lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice. An excellent example of the species. The rice is mixed with pork, chicken etc.

Crabmeat and prawn, what’s not to like. Also very hot! They are steamed after all.

Classic Pork Shu Mai. I made the mistake of getting greedy on these and could barely taste them as I seared off my tongue. What I did taste seemed good.

This is a bunch of seafood and vegetable cooked on a griddle. A sort of Chinese seafood sausage. They call it a seafood cake. My father and I ordered these at random from an entirely non-English speaking greasy griddle at a rooftop restaurant in Shaimen China. These were better.

“Crab, shrimp, and scallop, carrot pastry.” These were great too, with the shell almost like a fresh ravioli.

Jumbo shrimp and coriander dumplings. Light and succulent. The coriander mixed it up a little.

Spicy pork dumplings. I loved these, and they have a significant kick. Basically ground pork spiced with Schezuan peppers. In Western China we would get these at hotel breakfasts.

Classic “Har Gau,” or shrimp in a light translucent pastry. Yum, but I missed the mustard.

Vegetable and beans in black bean sauce over coconut rice. Kinda light a high end weight watchers dinner.

Another example of a modernized lightened classic. Vegetable steamed bun, with sauteed vegetables and fresh baby corn. Really good. Almost as good as the pork version.

Spinach and mushroom pan fried dumpling, in crispy wheat flour pastry. Almost like meat.

Spicy Basil, rice noodles and chili. Interesting flavors.

My favorite of the meal, “black prawn, garlic and shrimp, black squid ink pastry.” There was a succulent sweetness that complimented the shrimp brilliantly.

The decor too is modernized as compared to your traditional place.

I was impressed with Ping Pong. On average the dishes were fresher than you get in the typical cart driven place, and the introduction of new flavors was very subtly but nicely done. I particularly appreciated having really well done vegetarian versions of classics. Bravo!