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ObaChine: Flavors, Spices of Asia With a Dash of Fun

TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Wolfgang Puck has just unveiled his latest restaurant concept, an Asian restaurant and satay bar called ObaChine. The first of who-knows-how-many is in Beverly Hills--the former Tribeca space on Beverly Drive. (A second opens in Seattle next month.) The name comes from combining oba, the mint-like Japanese leaf, with the French word for China.

Downstairs is an enormous hammered copper bar where you can snack on several kinds of satay, including a tuna version. Up the stairs past a bright, Chinoiserie poster advertising ObaChine is the main dining room, a huge loft-like space with considerably more elbowroom than Puck’s more expensive Chinois on Main. Prices are a notch lower, too, with entrees coming in under the $20 mark.

In ObaChine, Puck’s signature open kitchen comes right out into the room, with seats pulled up to the tiled counter on three sides. The serrated oba leaf motif appears in the guise of molded glass lamps along the walls, as a decoration on the elegant chair backs. ObaChine’s whimsical decor is something of a surprise, one of Puck’s partner and wife Barbara Lazaroff’s more restrained designs.

The pan-Asian food is playful, yet doesn’t stint on flavor. Still in the fine-tuning stages, the menu includes dim sum (Dungeness crab shiu mai) and little dishes from many traditions. Chinese-style spare ribs are glazed in soy and honey laced with star anise. There are crispy, triangular samosa to dip in a spunky yogurt-cilantro sauce and Vietnamese spring rolls filled with eel to give them more oomph.

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Not all the waiters seem to have the family-style idea down pat, still trying to bring out all the dishes at the same time. Which could explain why our sizzling catfish was so woefully overcooked. Tandoori Murgh roast chicken is intricately spiced, served with a fluffy basmati pilaf. And a crisp-skinned tea-smoked Peking duck is paired with tender little taro root buckwheat pancakes. For dessert, pass up the cloying banana and walnut spring rolls for a cooling tropical fruit soup topped with a scoop of crimson dried hibiscus granita.

ObaChine isn’t just another Wolfgang Puck Cafe in Chinese guise. It’s Puck riffing on all the flavors and spices of Asia. And that sense of fun comes through in the food as ObaChine plays bistro to Chinois’ haute Asian food.

* ObaChine, 242 Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 274-4440. Open for dinner seven nights a week. Lunch starts sometime after Thanksgiving. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Appetizers $4.50-$9.50; entrees $12.50-$19.50.


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