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Oooh Xanadu

Berkeley's new haute hangout dishes up pan-Asian cuisine in a grand old train station

Groggy from last night's magical mystery tour through Xanadu's long list of bizarre lychee and mango cocktails, silvery sakes, and clever wine varietals, I am all too pleased to find my breakfast in a chilled to-go box fragrant with piles of citrus zest, fennel, and red jalapeno. Chairman Mao's Liberation Ribs ($9), marinated and fried to a fall-off-the-bone crispness, make as good a hangover treat as they do a steaming starter plate. One entree, however, I wish we hadn't completely scarfed up at dinner, because a few fat chopstickfuls would really hit the spot: tender, wok-seared Galanga beef.

Lanterns Every great restaurant has a signature dish. At owner George Chen's pan-Asian Xanadu in Berkeley's 4th Street restaurant gulch, most folks will say that the Pao-Wok crispy chicken buried in sun-dried chilis ($11.75) is the stunner. Personally, I'd like to give a shout out to the Galanga beef ($15.25) which, when ordered rare, arrives rare and stays rare. Glistening in a steaming pluff of one-inch cubes, the filet is drenched in a meaty, sweetly spicy reduction sugared by a bedding of luscious lowland watercress and a tasty nest of fried yam sticks. Strangely, it goes brilliantly with R.H. Phillips' steely, fruity, white-as-white-can-be Viognier ($7.50/gls.).

Another Viognier-friendly winner at the hands of Executive Chef Alex Ong: Xanadu's crispy, shell-and-all salt & pepper prawns ($13.50), garnished with a rustic, musty, godawfully good mixture of garlic chive, jalapeno, garlic, ginger, five spice, and szechuan peppercorn.

The roasted Hainan chicken ($8.75) is a beautiful and hilariously messy starter. Assembled spring roll-style in huge iceberg lettuce cups with red and green ginger sauces, the dish is juicy, crunchy, spicy, sweet, warm, cold, and above all, lip-smacking good, the epitome of Xanadu's culinary tenet: to achieve balanced Qi through manipulations of temperature, spices, tonics, and herbs in cooking.

Lanterns Other standout dishes: the fresh sashimi of the day ($A.Q.), plated with seaweed salad, ginger, daikon, wasabi, and soy - such a lovely, fresh cut of ahi tuna you'd be hard-pressed to find. On the Japanese tip, a delicious surprise: an iceberg lettuce heart salad ($5.25). Its creamy soy-ginger dressing is the granddaddy of bento box dressings. For the soup course: a light, lovely lemongrass broth ($9.95) studded with red jalapenos, kaffir lime leaf, basil, and mint swathing a happy family of shellfish. The Pearl of the Orient cocktail ($5.25), chilled sake and lychee puree served up in a cocktail glass with a lychee nut, is the most sinful palate cleanser in the Bay Area.

Once all is said and done, settle into a glass of Taylor Fladgate port ($5.50/gls.) or Quinta Do Noval tawny ($7.50/gls.). Though the warm chocolate cake ($5.75) did not ooze for us like it did for Michael Bauer, the ethereal pumpkin cheesecake ($5.75) more than made up for it, and Xanadu's pumpkin-seed brittle is worth any amount of bridge traffic.

While Xanadu's interior boasts high design, dark woods and gorgeous handmade French/Chinese silk chandeliers, the view out of the giant, arched windows is just a rusty old set of train tracks. That is until a train silently speeds past, transforming the restaurant into an exciting, glamorous outpost of antiquated wayfarer luxury. Momentarily taken away by the rushing train, you might find yourself fantasizing about a long rail trek through Asia as you gnaw on your mango cosmopolitan's ($5.50) sugar cane stirrer stick. After all, Chen (responsible for Betelnut, Shanghai 1930, and Longlife Noodle Company) took a huge foodie tour of Asia before launching Xanadu-why couldn't you?