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Dim Sum and Then Some at Cafe

At Chi's, the elegant snacks are available any time and are prepared to order, an unusual feature.


Passionately and often, people ask me to recommend a Chinese restaurant in the north Valley. I usually waffle, but I won't anymore. Under its new owner, an unassuming Northridge mini-mall cafe has started serving roaringly successful Cantonese food.

The menu at Chi's Chinese Cuisine is basically filled with simple Hong Kong-style dishes such as won-ton soup, chow fun noodles and cashew chicken, plus homey Sichuan noodles and about two dozen dim sum items.

The dim sum are big news. In most Chinese restaurants that even offer these elegant snacks, dim sum are available only at certain hours, but here you can have them whenever you want, because the dumplings and pastries are made to order. (Imagine a French restaurant making all its sauces a la minute and you'd have an idea of how extraordinary this is.) Dim sum taste best steaming hot, which is how they come here.

The restaurant can seem a bit weird at first. It smells like new paint, and the bright pink hue of the walls suggests a nursery. There's a small aquarium, but it's stocked only with goldfish, so don't imagine it's for picking your dinner, as it would be at many a Chinese seafood restaurant.

You won't miss the live fish when you bite into a fun gor: a dim sum dumpling of chopped pork, shrimp and water chestnuts in a diaphanous rice noodle wrapper. Har gow are shrimp dumplings in the same delicate rice noodle wrappers, and they come on a bed of cabbage, three to an order, in a metal steamer dish.

Also among the dim sum are steamed spareribs with black bean sauce, only $1.75, and they're exactly the kind you get in Hong Kong. They're lightly dusted with rice powder and cooking wine, then steamed with salty black fermented soy beans to extreme tenderness. (Though they aren't what you'd call fatty, remember that the Chinese cooking tradition isn't as fussy about trimming spareribs as we're used to.)


The dim sum page includes a few northern Chinese first courses, such as spicy cucumber, pickled vegetables and hearty noodle dishes. The pickles (cabbage, carrots and radishes) are on the sweet side, but the spicy cucumber--tiny wedges marinated in sesame paste, chile oil and whole garlic cloves--is exquisitely authentic. Ja ja mein is a bowl of spaghetti topped with a ragout of minced pork and soy sauce. Dan dan mein, a more filling pasta, is served cold, topped with a thick sesame paste that has the texture of natural peanut butter.

You can also choose among 20 entree preparations and then pick the main ingredient: chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or scallops. (If it's squid, sea cucumber or other exotic seafood you crave, dine elsewhere.) The entree choices are familiar styles such as kung pao, Sichuan, sweet and pungent, snow pea, lobster sauce and mu shu.


Shrimp with lobster sauce--shrimp sauteed with water chestnuts, diced carrots and fresh peas in a rich egg sauce--may be a hoary cliche of Cantonese cookery, but it's flawlessly done here.

Noodles are ubiquitous in the Cantonese kitchen, and Chi's accomplished noodle dishes include pasta incarnations like wispy thin rice noodles (mi fun), flat thick rice noodles (chow fun), soft wheat-based noodles (chow mein) and noodles that are pan-fried until a crisp brown crust forms on the side touching the pan.


* WHAT: Chi's.

* WHERE: 9635 Reseda Blvd., Northridge.

* WHEN: Open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily.

* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $14-$26. Suggested dishes: dim sum, $1.75-$3.75; spicy cucumber, $1.75; ja ja mein, $3.75; shrimp with lobster sauce, $8.95.

* FYI: No alcohol. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa accepted.

* CALL: (818) 886-6928.

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