Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Xian Wei Dinner Series Elevates Regional Chinese Flavors

Chinese food has long been cornered into the "cheap food" category, but 19 year old Luther Chen tries to fuse his fine dining culinary training with the regional Chinese cuisines that he tasted when he was traveling through China. The Xian Wei (which is the equivalent of "umami" in Chinese) is a dinner series taking place at Luther and partner Kenny's home in San Pedro (they will also soon launch a Chinese food truck called Shaokao). Curated by blogger Clarissa Wei, the underground dinner promises a journey through "5 courses, 5 regions". The next dinner is taking place on Saturday, February 8. The suggested donation is $75 and you can reserve a spot here
Luther Chen

I tasted the menu during a Saturday afternoon. My lunch started strong with an amuse bouche of 30 second microwave sesame cake, one served with sesame salt, the other served with fermented bean curd
The sesame cake is light, sweet and fluffy. Surprisingly the savoriness of the fermented bean curd complemented it quite well. This was inspired by an El Bulli dish which was a black sesame cake with miso.

There is a wine pairing for $35 but we're hoping that Xian Wei will start opening it up to a BYOB or partnering with a local wine store, in the spirit of supper clubs!

The first course is Sichuan pickles (daikon, cucumber, wood ear mushroom, sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette, sesame sand)
Sichuan Pickles
This was a great starter, as well, with the pickled daikon and the spicy vinaigrette getting your palate going.
Anhui tofu (fresh "tofu", bean curd broth, quahog clams)
Tofu is said to be invented in the Anhui province of Central China, thus this dish pays homage to that region. This is a faux "tofu" though as it's actually made of eggs. The "tofu" is served in a light beancurd broth and fresh clams. This was my favorite dish of the whole meal.

Next is a Shanghai 85' xiao long bao (head to toe Berkshire pork, Chesapeake crab)
It's a "head to toe" XLB because it includes the snout, shoulder, feet, smoked Virginia ham, and other parts. The XLB is smoked with Mesquite chips, which you can actually find in the bottom tray.
The skin of the XLB is on the thicker side and fell apart rather easily.

Guangdong yu (cured white pomfret en papillote, fermented young sprouts, burnt tomatillo)
The flavor of the fish itself tastes just like the steamed fish I grew up with, with ginger and scallions, but the sprouts and the tomatilla were spicy!
Pomfret, plated

Xinjiang shaokao (Chinese street barbeque lamb, eggplant, cultured soy yogurt, leaves of young peas puree)
The eggplant skin is burnt so be sure to not eat the skin, but the meat is sweet and tender. The homemade soy milk yogurt tempers the bbq flavor.

The wine they paired with this was pretty interesting since it's from a winery in San Pedro called Marabella (though they get the grapes from a vineyard in Mira Loma)

Textures of ice, taro cremeux, tapioca, brown sugar chestnut, and foraged sorrel
This was only the 2nd or 3rd dinner they've held, and while there are still kinks to work out with the new feedbacks, I found Xian Wei to be a promising dinner series. I was quite impressed with the food which was elegantly presented and maintains classic Chinese flavors while giving it a twist with western style preparations. Again, the next dinner is on February 8 and each dinner is limited to 8 people, so book now if you want to try it!


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