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Berkeley's new haute hangout dishes up pan-Asian cuisine in a grand old train station
by Tracie Broom on Jan 09, 2005
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?
by Tracie Broom on Jan 09, 2005