The third-floor dining terrace at the newly revamped Santa Monica Place mall opened with a wine bar, a Spanish restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a Mexican place, a pizzeria and more, some of them from relatively big-name chefs. What to try first? I went for the exotic, Xino from Bay Area chef Chris Yeo.
I remember Straits Café, his San Francisco Malaysian restaurant from years ago. Since then, the Singapore-born chef has become a brand name with restaurants in Burlingame, Calif., San Jose, Atlanta and Houston. This is his first venture in Southern California.
We ride up in the elevator to the third floor and get out at what looks like a park on the roof with miles of sky all around. I can't help but be flabbergasted at what they've done with this vast space with its meandering paths, benches that glow like fireflies, stylish outdoor seating for a reinvented food court — and a collection of midlevel to high-end restaurants.
Xino is toward the rear. Past the entrance is a skinny dining room with a giant photo mural of a reclining tattooed seductress as landscape. But who would want to eat inside when there's an entire outdoor patio beckoning, complete with outdoor bar and a view?
Couples cozy up on sofas in front of low tables, nibbling on chicken "lollipops" (basically kung pao chicken on a stick) and chili-glazed pork riblets and dim sum. Along the inside wall is a row of swell white-curtained banquettes, which are much in demand. Not to worry; heat lamps galore mean you won't take a chill when the wind picks up on the roof.
We're sipping a lychee martini and amusing ourselves watching the waitresses scurry past, tugging on their oh-so-brief skirts. Ours, sporting a spray-on tan and a super-white smile, has perfected the little dip that keeps her skirt from riding up. She brings duck wonton soup with a rather weak broth but otherwise OK and Chinese wasabi chicken salad that tastes as if someone left the wasabi out.
Salt and pepper prawns, though, are excellent, and a half-rack of kurobuto ribs in Chinese barbecue sauce passes muster. Sweet and sour kumquat chicken is just that — old-fashioned sweet and sour. And emperor's fried rice is like a cleaner version of every fried-rice dish from your childhood.
Our ordering is scattershot: The menu is quite large but not nearly as compelling as I'd hoped, basically a middle-of-the road take.
Keep in mind, though, that this is just an early look and an early menu. Sunday nights, you can pretty much guarantee that the contingent who always eat Chinese food that day will give up their seats at P.F. Chang's to have a look at, and a taste of, Xino.
Xino Restaurant and Lounge
Where: 395 Santa Monica Place at Santa Monica Boulevard and 4th Street, Santa Monica.
When: Open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m Sundays through Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Wednesdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m Thursdays through Saturdays.
Cost: dim sum and specialties, $3.75 to $14; starters, $10 to $14; main courses, $18 to $38; rice & noodles, $12 to $17; sides, $11 to $12; desserts, $4. Full bar.
Information: (310) 755-6220; http://www.santamonicaplace.com and http://www.sinorestaurant.com.