East meets South: W’s China Bistro in Redondo Beach [RESTAURANT REVIEW]
Context can be hugely important when it comes to ethnic dining. I like knowing as much as possible about what I’m eating and why it was made that way, partly just because I enjoy learning about food. It has its practical side too – if there’s something particularly tasty and I know that it’s traditional, I can order it again elsewhere, but if it’s an original and unique thing then I will know not to seek it elsewhere.
Almost everything on the menu at W’s China Bistro is in the unique category, even the dishes that are made exactly according to the tradition of the owners’ family. The Chong brothers, who opened the restaurant ten years ago, grew up in Peru’s Chinese community and cook with the eclectic style of that country. Old favorites like mooshu pork and Mongolian beef are joined by a shrimp, vegetable, and potato stir fry known as a saltado, and there’s even a Peruvian-style chicken tamale among the appetizers. It’s Chinese food, but overseas style, with flavors of South America.
I stopped in with a pair of friends last week and started with that chicken tamale, a pair of spring rolls, and a few gin martinis. Yes, martinis – W’s has a well-stocked bar and a bartender who knows his stuff. The Nolet Dutch gin makes a marvelous drink with a piney, herbal finish that suits the tangy Asian sauces quite well, and though I usually order from the wine list here, it was an interesting change.
The tamale was delicious, the Peruvian-style pickled purple onions contrasting nicely with melt-in-your-mouth corn masa and spicy chicken. Unfortunately the fried spring rolls were a bit bland, tasting mainly of cabbage and carrot – some wood ear or other flavorful mushrooms would have added interest and flavor. It was an unusual stumble from a kitchen that usually serves up very well balanced food.
We continued with fried flat noodles with broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu and a pair of daily specials – pulled pork with Chinese spice sauce, tomatoes, and green beans, and seared sesame and seaweed crusted ahi tuna with daikon sprout and crispy wonton salad. Both of these could earn a place on the regular menu, though the ahi’s presentation could use a bit of tinkering – the plate had some pretty but nonessential items like a slice of tomato stuffed with wasabi and some avocado, and a minuscule portion of seaweed salad that was a very good companion to the fish. If that delicious fish had been served with a little more seaweed and daikon salads, a good dish would have been even better.
Dinner had been so good that I returned a few days later for more, this time starting with a salad of lettuce, almonds, tomato, purple onion, and baby kale in a Vietnamese style dressing with nuoc mam – the mild, tangy fish sauce. A few shards of pickled red jalapenos added bursts of flavor, and the skewers of grilled beef in a cumin, lemongrass, and fennel marinade sealed the deal. I could have easily made a meal of this, and it’s one of the best Asian fusion items I’ve had here or anywhere else.
We continued with grilled tofu with vegetables and mushrooms and a dish of scallions, mushrooms, and beef cubes in a Pinot Noir reduction truffle oil, flamed with cognac in the Vietnamese-French style. The tofu was so meaty tasting and rich, with a little smoke flavor from the grill, that I momentarily forgot what it was and wondered if we had been served chicken. As for the beef, it encapsulated the sophisticated French-colonial style of dining, with the best of East and West. It was a perfect companion to a glass of Don Melchior Chilean Cabernet, which had softer tannins than most comparable French or Californian Cabs. We also had an excellent “Ned” New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – and there’s a reason this varietal has become the go-to wine for Asian food, because the bright, floral notes went well with both the richly flavored salad, beef, and the garlic noodles with vegetables that we had to accompany the rest of our meal.
For dessert there was a selection of ice creams – green tea, berry, coconut- vanilla, and banana walnut with a touch of whipped cream. It was a light, delightful end to an excellent meal. The prices here are a bit higher than at typical Chinese restaurants around the South Bay, but not by much, and the atmosphere and food quality make it a bargain. W’s China Bistro has had a decade to figure out an alluring fusion of flavors and traditions that will please our palates, and they know their stuff.
W’s China Bistro is at 1410 South PCH in Redondo. Open Mo-Thu 11:30 AM-9:30 PM, Fr 11:30 AM-10 PM, Sa noon-10 PM, Su noon-9:30PM. Parking lot in rearm, free valet. Full bar, corkage $10, vegetarian/vegan options. Website at wschinabistro.com, phone 310-792-1600.