Finally, a good Chinese restaurant in Santa Monica. When I first moved here there were lots of Chinese restaurants, many Cantonese, but a few Szechuan. I don’t know what happened to them, but I guess the pizza, taco and Italian restaurants took them over.
Now our luck has changed, and not only do we have good Chinese food in the city by the sea, but it’s located in a great spot with indoor and outdoor dining and lots of good drinks to go with it.
I’m talking about Xino Restaurant & Lounge, whose parent restaurant is in San Jose. The restaurant recently opened in the new Santa Monica Place on the third floor dining deck. So far my friends tell me that Xino is the best of the bunch. I had lunch there with three worldly friends who have lived in lots of exotic places, and everyone loved it. The owner, Chris Yeo, was on-site, always a good sign, and Heather, from the San Jose branch, was there as well.
Looking at reviews on the web was discouraging. They were almost uniformly bad, particularly about the service and the prices. I talked to Mr. Yeo about it, and he admitted that they had a rough start. He said they were not prepared for the rush of people during the first few days, and the kitchen couldn’t handle it, let alone all new staff of servers. But after seeing how poorly things were going, he took steps to limit the number of people at any time, and added to the staff so that they can now deliver the quality and service as anticipated.
The space is quite nice. There’s a quiet area between the inside bar and the outside patio. There’s a lounge in front of the inside bar, just inside the front door. But the patio is where most people want to sit, and it’s very comfortable, open, with good umbrella shade, tables and booths. The music is louder on the patio, and while I personally don’t like gospel influenced singing while I eat, most people seem to.
We had a little of this and a little of that.
We started with the dim sum, which was what had attracted my attention in the first place. While not as light as those in Singapore, they were very good and the fillings were more flavorful than any others I’ve had in Los Angeles (including Chinatown). This is a restaurant not afraid of strong flavors. After a bit of a wait we were served with three dipping sauces of the usual varieties. Of course I prefer dim sum off the cart, where there is no waiting and they are always piping hot, but this is the next best thing. I found the wild mushroom dim sum unusual and delicious. There were bao and fried crab puffs, plus the usual seafood and pork delicacies.
The big surprise was how good the regular Chinese dishes were. The favorite dish seemed to be the Szechuan tangerine beef with hot peppers. The peppers were hot, but the beef was tangy and sweet, tender and full of flavor. The garlic shrimp with red peppers was equally flavorful, and I hope you like garlic if you order it. On the Cantonese side was shrimp and scallops on a noodle base that looked like a large bird’s nest. The noodles were crispy around the edges, but soft in the middle, redolent of chicken broth. Every dish was prepared properly, but there is a lot on the menu that we did not taste.
The prices are surprisingly reasonable. On the appetizer and small plates and happy hour list only the kobe sliders at $14 are above the $10 level. Most of the plates are between $4 and $7. On the regular list most of the dishes run between $10 to $14 except for the Mongolian Cowboy Rib Eye for $38 — something I intend to try just to see why it cost three times as much as the other dishes.
I’m so happy Xino has moved into our little town.
If You Go
395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 308
Tel (310) 755-6220
11 a.m. — 4 p.m., Daily
Sunday — Tuesday: 4 p.m. — 10 p.m.,
Wednesday: 4 p.m. — 12 a.m.,
Thursday — Saturday: 4 p.m. — 2 a.m.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at email@example.com.