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In Royal Style

Grand Dynasty goes upscale but wavers on creativity of its cuisine.


Outside a Chinese neighborhood, an upscale Chinese restaurant faces a struggle. Without the discerning customer base, the main thing a Chinese kitchen can offer is good value for a low price.

Grand Dynasty is bravely trying a grander approach in Encino. The spacious dining room--formerly Marix Tex Mex--is replete with comfy booths, elegant Chinese paintings, polished wood paneling and nice touches like porcelain chopstick holders and Riedel wine glasses. Yes, Riedel glasses--the beautiful Austrian crystal that cognoscenti consider the world's best for tasting wines.

Riedel stemware is rarely found in any restaurant; it's notoriously expensive and fragile. It's astonishing to find it in a Chinese restaurant, especially one without a large wine list. But Grand Dynasty's list, though small, happens to be well chosen. Two excellent choices are the austere 1994 Stag's Leap Sauvignon Blanc ($20) and the fruity, fragrant 1995 Windward Pinot Noir ($40), both of which complement many Chinese dishes.

Now if only the restaurant could be as uncompromising about food. When Grand Dynasty opened two months ago, it clearly intended to carve out a niche like that of Yujean Kang's, the wine-friendly nouvelle Chinese restaurant in Pasadena. One of the hot-looking dishes on the original menu was, in fact, a highly acclaimed lobster and fava bean dish adapted from Yujean Kang's.

But almost no one ordered the lobster, and on the new menu it has been replaced by commonplace dishes like moo shu pork. "I have to cook moo shu dishes," an exasperated manager told my table. "People come in here and ask for it and stuff like chicken-fried rice, so what can I do?"

Grand Dynasty's chicken-fried rice happens to be delicious--it's a fluffy mound of sauteed chicken, green onions and rice served on a gorgeous blue porcelain platter. But this isn't really a fried-rice and moo-shu kitchen. New-style Chinese dishes like Chilean sea bass sesame and gai-chi prawns are more its style.

I wish Grand Dynasty offered more dishes like the gai-chi prawns--terrific giant prawns sauteed with sesame, chives, green onions and a touch of coriander, garnished with golden florettes of fried milk. Chilean sea bass is the only fresh fish left on the menu, and you can have it braised in spicy garlic sauce or smothered with Cantonese black bean sauce. My choice, though, is sea bass sesame, where the sweetness of the fish contrasts beautifully with a spicy brown sesame paste.

There's the obligatory Chinese chicken salad, but it does show flash. The chopped lettuce, chicken breast and three kinds of fried-rice noodles are tossed with a surprisingly refreshing red ginger dressing. The tea-smoked duck has good, smoky flavors. One more in the not-to-miss category is Hunan lamb: delicate shreds of lean meat sauteed with garlic, ginger and cubed bean curd.

The appealing dim sum snacks are served at any time of day, not just at breakfast or lunch. They include Shanghai ravioli: six crescent-shaped dumplings filled with minced chicken, crowded into a small bowl along with a spicy dipping broth. Steamed siu mai are bite-sized noodle skins tightly wrapped around a fatty pork and shrimp filling.

Noodle, rice and vegetable dishes--especially the garlic string beans and the sauteed spinach with garlic--are solidly dependable. You can end your meal with a creamy, colorful Mandarin orange cheesecake topped or a plate of seasonal fruits with three fruit sauces.

For this restaurant to fulfill its promise, it needs to take risks and Encino needs to support it. If not, this could be a short-lived dynasty.


Grand Dynasty, 16240 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thur.; 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Dinner for two, $26-$55. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. (818) 783-7213.

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