“I can get traditional Vietnamese food with a view of a parking lot, or this with a view straight to Catalina,” I mused just after our drinks and starters arrived at Bashi. Strictly speaking that wasn’t true, because Catalina was hidden behind the June haze, but the view of rugged peninsula cliffs to the south was still a treat to the eye. The stuff on the plate was visually interesting too – they go for fancy presentations at Terranea, and brunch was no exception.
Bashi is an anomaly at this resort, an uncompromisingly Asian restaurant where you can’t get bacon and eggs at Sunday brunch or a burger for your kids at dinner. Even more oddly, though most of the menu items draw inspiration from Chinese or Vietnamese cuisine, the place’s name is Japanese – the word for chopsticks, which is the dining utensil of choice here. The name does have a connection to the location, since the Palos Verdes Peninsula was inhabited by Japanese farmers before the internments of the 1940s, but doesn’t have much to do with what is served here now.
I tried Bashi last year and had an enjoyable evening meal with the reflected flames of a firepit from the adjacent pool area making the place a visual pleasure. The service then was amiable but a bit disorganized, and I resolved to stop back later. Later turned out to be this Sunday, when the restaurant still had plenty of seats even when there was a line for brunch at the neighboring café.
The folks in that line missed a very interesting experience. Our enthusiastic server Michael brought menus, decoded the drink choices, and was generally helpful while we puzzled over the food menu. This is divided into small plates and large plates, but in practice the line is blurred – some small plates are diminutive, others substantial. We decided on orders of crispy chicken dumplings, garlic noodles with shrimp, crispy pork belly and shrimp salad, Chinese-style pork buns, and the Vietnamese sir-fry called “shaking beef.”
Shaking beef’s odd name is based on some ancient mistranslation that was never corrected – shaken beef is more correct and refers to the fact that quick-seared chunks of steak are shaken in a wok to coat them with a sauce composed of rice vinegar, green onion, sugar, salt, and pepper. The Vietnamese like beef medium-rare, and that’s the way it is served here, the cubes of meat laid over a salad of lightly peppery watercress and cherry tomatoes, then topped with crisp toasted garlic. It is a fragrant and flavorful but not hotly spiced dish; Indonesian sambal and Thai sriracha sauce are available for those who like it hot, and a lime sauce for those who like a dash of tartness. The version here was distinctly more mild than the ones I‘ve tried at more traditional Vietnamese restaurants but still tasty, and I dipped into the lime sauce a few times.
The crispy chicken dumplings were a trio of fat little wontons with a very tasty seasoned chicken and green onion mix – tasty, but at ten dollars for two bites each, a bit overpriced even by Palos Verdes standards. The char siu pork buns were a bit more substantial for about the same price, and the filling was more interesting than usual – like a cross between pulled pork and char siu rather than the usual candied pork. As is traditional, they were steamed rather than fried, so had a soft texture like the inside of white bread, and these were very light and fluffy.
The garlic noodles were good but not sharply flavored; the cloves of mild garlic in the dish had been roasted so they were sweet. When they arrived at the table I took an exploratory sniff and could barely scent them. This was a contrast to the traditional version, which can easily be detected when someone at the next table orders the noodles, or even someone two tables away. The fresh-tasting mix of onion, bean sprouts, roasted garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms with shrimp was tasty, but despite what it does to my social life I prefer the more robust traditional version.
The highlight of the whole meal was the dish that arrived last – pork belly and shrimp with lotus root slices, carrot, mint, fresh basil, shallots, and chopped peanuts in a lime dressing. The flavors here were bold but herbal rather than hot, the intense basil and tart lime sharp counterpoints to the rich pork and shrimp, and the nutty, crunchy lotus root added to the complexity. One member of our party had never tried lotus root before, but this experience made her want to know what else can be done with it.
We splurged on drinks with brunch, intrigued by the signature drinks on the cocktail menu. Most of these sound like they tend toward the sweet side, like the gin, lychee, Cointreau, and lemon juice Asian Moon, which turned out to make a lovely hot weather drink, but they also made an excellent Singapore Sling and a “Bashi Hot & Sour” that was genuinely spicy. This concoction of Whistle Pig rye, liqueur, lime and lemon juices, and sriracha sauce was as hot as any spicy bloody mary I’ve had, and just in case a hot and sour cocktail wasn’t enough of a reason to get out of bed, it is served with a slice of bacon instead of a swizzle stick.
Only three desserts are offered, so we decided to order them all – a coconut chocolate mousse, baked milk custard topped with banana caramel compote, and a kiwi passion fruit cheesecake over a ginger cookie crumble base. All three were served beautifully and were very tasty – whoever is handling the pastry duties here is a visual artist and master of flavor, and I’d go far out of my way to have these desserts even if I dined elsewhere.
The bill for four people with three cocktails was $151 – higher than most Asian restaurants, but most Asian restaurants don’t offer anything like this level of service and innovation, to say nothing of the view of the ocean. It was a chance to soak up some resort ambiance and laze over a great meal, and we returned to the mundane duties of the rest of our day with regret. It had been a little vacation, and we were reluctant for it to end.
Bashi is at the pool level of the Terranea Resort – open daily 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.. Valet or self park, full bar, corkage $20, wheelchair access good, children welcome, patio dining. Menu at terranea.com, phone 310-265-2703.