Wild boar “juicy” dumplings. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Wild boar scissor-cut noodles. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Beef hand-pulled noodle soup. Photo by Marc Janks.
Wok-tossed shrimp with gingko nuts. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The Peking roast duck platter. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Looking into the back dining room. Photo courtesy of M.Y. China.
As someone who lived in Los Angeles for five years, I’m no stranger to dining in a mall. My top sushi spot was in a mini-mall, ditto one of the cooler tiki bars I loved. But ~M.Y. CHINA~ is no hole in the wall—this spiffy spot on the fourth floor of the Westfield Centre (“Under the Dome”) boasts 200 seats, a mega exhibition kitchen, a horseshoe bar around an 1,800-pound-bronze bell from a Chinese monastery suspended from the ceiling, and some other beautiful artifacts, from the display of cloisonné monks that seem to be levitating on a back wall to the shelves of colorful little snuff bottles you’ll see on your way to the dramatic bathroom.
With this sprawling size, there are a variety of seating options, from round corner tables for large groups to a counter for singles or duos of diners that looks into the busy exhibition kitchen (the guys manning the wok stations will give you a few grins and waves as the flames fly high). I also came for a business lunch; the experience was very well suited (har) for it—the vibe was right, there’s room in between tables, and it has a handy downtown location. M.Y. China would also be a prime spot for weekend dim sum brunch before (or after) you do some shopping.
It’s a big venture, with some culinary kung fu masters behind it: Martin Yan (he of 3,500 broadcast cooking shows and 30 cookbooks), badass brothers Willy and Ronny Ng of Koi Palace (they are managing partners), and executive chef Yong Dong (Tony) Wu, who is not only the noodle master (you may see him hand-pulling noodles in the kitchen or dining room at some point), but with 30 years of cooking under his belt, this Tianjin native is skilled in four major Chinese cuisines: Szechuan, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Cantonese (you’ll see elements from all on the varied menu).
You’ll note some classic dishes that any American knows well (sweet and sour pork, honey glazed walnut shrimp), but these are not the dishes I gravitate toward. With the Ngs behind the venture, of course you have to indulge in some dim sum, like the pork and crab “juicy” dumplings (aka xiao long bao, $12 for 5), or my preferred version, the wild boar XLB ($8 for 4), their thick wrappers containing a gingery meat and oh so delicious broth within. While I appreciate the almost dummy-proof presentation in porcelain soupspoons, they come out hot, so don’t burn your fingers. The plump and savory shu mai ($6 for 4) are other table pleasers.
I was pleasantly surprised with the wok-tossed shrimp with gingko nuts ($18), which does not fit the usual American flavor or preferred texture profile. The nuts have an almost Taleggio-like cheese undertone, along with the unexpected addition of sliced cucumber, wolfberries, and a cornstarchy sauce. It’s a homey dish, one I really enjoyed.
You definitely need to take a jaunt in noodle territory here: the wild boar scissor-cut noodles ($14) are a must, the plump and sauce-coated noodles twisted with a fine julienne of carrot, fungus, sprouts, shallots, and thin pieces of tender boar. The beef hand-pulled noodle soup ($14) is also notable, the gelatinous broth rich with star anise; the baby bok choy keeps things light, especially after a bite of the tender pieces of slow-simmered rib-eye. (A glass of the Batasiolo barbera d’Alba went well with this dish, $9.)
There are three kinds of live Dungeness crab available (ranging around $42); the fried kung pao version—spiked with jalapeños, red bell pepper, and Huang Fei peanuts—was worth the greasy hands, although they need to figure out a better wet towel to bring out at the end (the poly-blend ones don’t contain the water and you’ll end up with it all over your lap and table).
You don’t have to have a group to indulge in the crispy roast chicken ($16/$32), beautifully presented but sadly the white meat was rather dry (even the quick bath they give it in the fryer before serving didn’t help). The Peking roast duck ($20/$38) is the better choice, which comes with the classic DIY spread of clamshell buns, ribbons of green onion, cucumber, and hoisin. Gorgeous presentation—everyone can get little squares of the crispy skin with the meat.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the delicious garlic pea shoots are $16, but damn are they good. What I also don’t understand is with these high prices, why doesn’t the menu say where the ingredients are from? Is the chicken sustainably raised, is the beef corn-fed or not? I’d like to know.
There’s a menu of small eats you could nosh on over a few cocktails at the bar after work, like the Shandong beef roll ($9), which comes wrapped in a green onion pancake. The (spendy) cocktails include a refreshing Nixon Visit ($13, with Hendrick’s gin, dram allspice, cucumber, agave), while the Buddha Mary ($12)—which features bonito flakes and fish sauce—is built for brunch. For some thoughts on the wine list, please check out Alan Goldfarb’s in-depth “Checking Lists” piece for tablehopper.
The dessert menu sounded really appealing, like a Meyer lemon egg tart ($8), but it needed more baking love—the crust wasn’t very golden and flaky. The M.Y. Sundae rice bowl ($8) was delicious, with toasted rice and lemongrass ice cream, coconut-pandan sorbet, rice brittle, and poached pears. But I didn’t need the soy caramel in the bowl—it took it over the edge. Sadly the oil-sodden sugar egg puffs ($8) also suffer from unnecessary lily-gilding: there’s no need for the side trio of dipping sauces like chocolate fondue and chantilly cream. Eh, no one can touch Shanghai Dumpling King’s eggy version of these puffs.
Service needs some dialing (on both visits, I had to continually flag my servers down for things) but everyone is friendly and very well intentioned. At these price points, however, I need to see more polish.
So how does this all net out? There’s a lot on the menu I enjoy and think they’re doing well here (and uniquely, at that). I want to make my way through all the noodle dishes and soups, and a friend can’t stop talking about the chilled eggplant. I’d totally come back for another biz lunch or dinner at the counter, even though I wouldn’t be surprised to experience a few more stumbles along the way. For now, it’s still M.Y. China, and not quite my China.