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Valley Life | restaurant review

A Small Fortune

Diminutive Dragon X offers excellent treatments of classic Chinese fare.

May 05, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dragon X may look like just a tiny storefront restaurant with rather uninspiring decor (lime-green walls, museum-store Klee and Van Gogh prints), but it happens to serve some of the best Chinese food in the Valley.

The waiters are Chinese-Indonesian, the chefs from either China or Vietnam and the menu from all over China. The food has clear, fresh flavors, rarely any excess salt or grease and no MSG.

Among the excellent appetizers are paper-wrapped chicken--minced chicken perfumed with soy and star anise--and steamed dumplings: chewy little pasta boats, 10 to an order, stuffed with minced chicken and leeks, and sprinkled with a spicy Sichuan sauce. With a splash of rice vinegar, these dumplings really come to life. I'd pass on the one-dimensional hot-and-sour soup, an over-thickened brown sludge cluttered with tofu, egg, bamboo shoots and carrot. But the exemplary wor wonton is a real meal. We're talking about a large bowl of chicken broth stocked with snow peas, nappa cabbage, assorted meats and wontons stuffed with a flavorful blend of minced pork and shrimp.

The main dishes are generous portions with a high proportion of meat to vegetables. They include a textbook Mongolian beef: tender sliced beef cooked with green onions and leeks in a piquant brown sauce. The lemon chicken has a light batter and a tangy sauce. With its sweet fish and salty black fermented soybeans, the filet of halibut in black bean sauce shows a classical Chinese mix of flavors. Only the curry chicken falls flat. It's finely chopped chicken in a thick, cloying yellow sauce that lacks bite.

One of the best dishes is barbecued pork pan-fried noodle, a mountain of noodles, pork, broccoli and snow peas in oyster garlic sauce.

The braised string beans dish is a triumph of minimalism: moderately blackened green beans, amazingly greaseless, done here without the preserved turnip or minced pork most Chinese restaurants use to enhance the flavor.

Dragon X offers no real surprises. Dessert is the obligatory duo of an almond cookie and a fortune cookie, and no exotic beverages are available. But it's encouraging that Chinese food in the suburbs is finally coming into its own, and even better to find a place where Chinese dishes pleasing to the Western palate are getting a little respect.

BE THERE

Dragon X, 11400 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, noon-10 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa. Dinner for two, $23-$37. Suggested dishes: paper-wrapped chicken, $4.25; steamed dumplings, $4.95; barbecued pork pan-fried noodle, $6.95; braised string beans, $7.95. Call (818) 487-7000.

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