Wolfgang Puck's Chinois in Santa Monica
A little while ago, I made a trip down to LA to check out the sights, sounds and tastes. Here's a look at Wolfgang Puck's Chinois restaurant located in Santa Monica. My experience with Wolfgang Puck's restaurants have been less than stellar so I was really hoping that one of his signature eateries in the LA area would redeem him. Let's not even talk about his canned soups at the grocery store. Ick!
Chinois is located on Main Street in beautiful Santa Monica, home of Baywatch and an inspiration to Cheryl Crow as noted in her hit "All I wanna Do". I have to admit, the Sunset is pretty fine in Santa Monica. The restaurant is located in one of the city's trendier areas at the south end of Pico Blvd, and just a few blocks away from the Third Street Promenade, a popular shopping destination that is right by the beach. Valet service is available, though parking seemed plentiful, even on the weekend. It's also a good excuse to park a little further away to explore what the area has to offer in shops and other cool eateries.
The decor of Chinois is definitely a "Fusion" of many Asian things, however, the restaurant is known as "Franco-Chinese". I'll stick with the term fusion. It sort of reminded me of one of the cluttered trinket shops that I came across walking around in Taiwan with the neon lighted signs, although I could see how it could be thought of as ground breaking maybe in 1983 when it first opened. The restaurant is dark and definitely needs a Restaurant Makeover to bring it up to 2000 standards. Let's have a look at the food.
For our starter, we ordered a Tempura ahi tuna sashimi with fresh uni sauce. The ahi tuna was wrapped in seaweed like a sushi roll, then dipped in tempura batter and fried for a crispy outer layer. It was then sliced sushi style to reveal a uniform raw center but a slighty cooked outer ring. Last time I checked, there was nothing Chinese about Sushi. Anyway, the uni sauce seemed a little poorly matched to the already heavy tempura ahi roll. I would have expected a lighter tangy Miso sauce of some sorts. The uni sauce was very thick and seemed to drown out the ahi tuna.
Next, we ordered up the Seared Maine scallops with Pad Thai noodles and lemon grass. Again, not Chinese. The Pad Thai noodles themselves were boring, lending themselves to be too reliant on the scallops. The noodles were heavy, somewhat mushy, and was missing that spicy Thai flavour. Good pad thai is dry and light and has a nice balance to the flavours, but I could only describe this dish as sour tasting. I did appreciate seeing the ribbons of egg though.
The scallops on the other hand stole the show as they were cooked to perfection: Tender and not rubbery. The brown substance was a sauce that was poured over them over a hot skillet that gave it that Chinese "Mixed Grill" effect. The sauce really wasn't necessary because the scallops were good on their own. The pad thai really needs to contribute more to this dish and that could only be accomplished with a recipe change. Edible, but uninspiring...but leave the scallops...sans sauce.
For dessert, we ordered their Dim Sum dessert that included a taste of everything. I was actually expecting to see some Chinese flavours like red bean or tarot since Dim Sum is...well...Chinese. Even an egg tart or some tapioca would have done the deal. Fooled again! I got two types of creme brule, vanilla bean ice cream, caramellized apples, and a chocolate brownie thing.
We didn't have any problems with service, but it wasn't what I'd expect in a higher end restaurant like this. It reminded me of the sort of service I would get at a Cheap Chinese Restaurant where you'd have someone take your order right away, then disappear until your dishes were ready to be taken or you needed the bill. I guess at least the service at "Chinois" is somewhat "Chinois'ish". Not good. Not bad, but totally deserving of a Chinese Style tip of only 10% for just doing your job, and no more.
Overall, I was disappointed with Celebrity Chef Puck once again. Someone clearly needs a slapshot (puck...slapshop...haha) to the head if he thinks he can get away with something like this for long. You're just fooling people with your name and celebrity status. At least when celeb chefs like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse put together a restaurant and a menu, the food is actually good, from seating to eating, and you don't feel like you've dropped your cash into a hole. I probably won't go back to Chinois if I'm in the area again. There are way too many cool eateries in that area to waste my money there.