The old China Bistro has gotten a face-lift, a menu transplant and assumed a new identity! She now calls herself Taz/Asian Fusion and has a sexy new personality.
In the competent hands of Geri Hulon, a former interior designer, and her son Dan Baker, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, the food and the space itself have been remodeled.
Old favorites still appear on the menu in a slightly different format, but there is an entirely new selection of chef’s specials that are innovative and particularly delicious.
What once looked like the typical Chinese/American restaurant has been transformed into a more sophisticated room with a Pan-Asian contemporary feel. A waterfall pouring down a wall of glass dominates the entrance. An attractive bar area has been added in the back separated by a hedge of faux bamboo (which looks almost real). Black linens and dark red napkins, new light fixtures, bamboo curtains and black Chinese lanterns on the tables dress up this old gal’s new image. She’s gone from old hat to hip. The new ambience is as warm and pleasant as the owner, the very affable and charming Geri.
The traditional dishes now appear as “beef your way," “shrimp your way" etc., with several choices in each category. The kitchen will alter the “hot and spicy" items according to your palate.
Interested specifically in trying the chef’s new dishes, we were torn between the appetizer crab cakes in lobster bisque or one of the tempting salads. The miso salad features napa cabbage, daikon, edamame, carrots, green onion, cilantro and crispy noodles in an orange-infused Dijon dressing, served with cream cheese wontons. We finally chose the mandarin orange salad with a piquant ginger dressing. A large lovely bowl of fresh spinach was replete with toasted cashews, red onions, mandarin oranges and jicama. A surprising dollop of creamy goat cheese beautifully complemented these flavors, but we could have done without those overly sweet, canned mandarins. On any of their salads, you may choose to add scallops, shrimp or chicken for $4. We opted for scallops and were pleased to discover that there were six of them and each one was delectable "” so fresh and so beautifully cooked, we were mightily impressed. In fact, everything we ordered came in a bountiful portion, easily shared.
Geri’s enthusiastic recommendation led us to choose the steamed sole with ginger and green onion, Chinese style. She’s very proud of her ingredients and rightly so. The very generous portion of two good-sized filets was as fresh and delicate as fish gets. It was just great!
Speaking of ingredients, we ordered the mixed Chinese vegetables, which come from the Los Angeles produce market every day from an Asian purveyor who supplies only the very best. You can taste the difference, especially when each vegetable is cooked to exactly the right second. The mÃ©lange included snow peas, broccoli, carrots, zucchini and green beans in a deliciously nuanced, light sauce.
We were hoping to order the Cantonese braised duck in cherry plum wine reduction sauce, but it was so popular on the day we were there that it sold out just before we ordered it. Although not on the menu, they offered to replace it with crispy duck. We were now in the mood for duck, so we went for it, although with reservations, as elsewhere this dish, while very crispy, is almost always dry and overcooked. Not so here. It came with a bowl of the standard hoisin based sauce, which we ignored as it was nothing special, but they also brought us the sour cherry sauce from the braised duck preparation and it was much more interesting "” another example of fusion cuisine, with whole plump cherries acting as a sweet foil to the salty duck. The skin on the duck was as crisp as chicharrones and there was absolutely no fat beneath it. The meat was tender and not at all dry. Once we licked our plates clean, we had a fabulous time chewing on the bones. Another thing that distinguishes Taz’s new menu is the variety of rice. You may choose from coconut sticky rice, cinnamon brown rice and wild rice as well the expected fried rice. Shrimp, chicken or beef can be added for $2.
Some other fusion dishes are: jumbo coconut, macadamia prawns with mango sauce; grilled wild Alaskan salmon with coconut sticky rice and corn relish; lettuce wraps with grilled lemon chicken; and grilled orange scallops with fresh coleslaw. They even offer filet mignon, marinated in Asian spices, grilled, sliced and served with salad and two kinds of rice.
We have always known that fortune cookies didn’t originate in China. Competing claims for its invention come from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, we were still surprised when our fortune read, “TendrÃ¡ buen suerte en sus asuntos personales." However, English was on the back. (“You will have good luck in your personal affairs.") Even the fortune cookies were fusion!
We can’t ever recall a time while eating in a Chinese restaurant when we thought, “Hmm, we better save room for dessert." Most fortune cookies are better read than eaten and canned lychees have never been a favorite of ours. Taz however, has a reasonable dessert selection, although not made in-house. In keeping with the fusion concept, there is Asian gelato, sake sorbet, mochis, ice cream truffles, chocolate cake with raspberries and cheesecake.
Geri suggested we come back Thursday for the informal ladies night when drinks at the international wine and sake bar are half price.
Lunch is a great bargain although the fusion dishes are not offered. Salad, soup, egg roll and fried rice accompany your choice of entrÃ©e for $6.50 to $7.75. Now that’s a lot of food!
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned a la Carte for 20 years and can be reached at email@example.com.