Shirley Chung, who landed a runner up slot behind Brooke Williamson on Top Chef season 14, will be opening her first full-fledged restaurant Ms. Chi Cafe at the former Hanjip space in Culver City beginning October 9, reports the LA Times. According the Times piece, Chung wants to help “redefine” Chinese food in Los Angeles. Chung says, “You assume people know what Chinese food is but they don’t,” saying diners instead are more familiar with orange chicken. That might be true, thanks to the likes of Panda Express.
At Ms. Chi Cafe, Chung will serve pork potstickers, zhajian-mian with hand cut noodles, and a vegan mapo tofu inspired by Sichuan chef Yu Bo. The Culver City restaurant, which comes off the heels of her more casual stand at The Fields at Banc of California Stadium, will serve all day from breakfast to dinner. The modern Chinese menu extends to brown rice oatmeal, avocado toast, mochi donuts, and adzuki bean pull apart buns in the mornings. Overall Chung seems to be implying that many Angelenos aren’t knowledgeable about Chinese food, as she wants to change the presentation of dishes like dumplings so that “people understand it.”
While it’s laudable that Chung wants to present a modern, perhaps more elevated, kind of Chinese cuisine, it’s no surprise that restaurants like Tasty Noodle House, Northern Cafe, Din Tai Fung, ROC, and Sichuan Impression are making inroads into greater LA in neighborhoods like Brentwood, Playa Vista, Century City, West LA, and West Third Street. That’s because Angelenos seems to have gained an appreciation for well-prepared Chinese cuisine from the bountiful SGV, and were pining for more of it. Even places like Pine & Crane, Joy, Little Fatty, and Kato serve very good renditions of modern Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine in traditional non-Asian majority neighborhoods. Even 101 Noodle Express continues to operate a mall version of its restaurant at Culver City’s Fox Hills mall.
But Chung’s take on Chinese cuisine still stands out in a landscape where more chefs are doing modern their renditions of traditional Asian cuisines. Chefs like Jason Kim and Susan Yoon at Wolfdown and Kevin Lee of Makani are elevating Korean cuisine while Charles Olalia of Ma’am Sir, Chad Valencia of Lasa, and Margarita Manzke of Sari Sari Store provide new takes on Filipino food. Kris Yenbamroong has taken Night + Market’s modern Thai cuisine to three locations while N/Naka serves a California-style Japanese kaiseki.
Shirley Chung opened Carnevino in Las Vegas as its chef de cuisine before going on to open Twenty Eight restaurant in Irvine. She’s also releasing a cookbook on October 23 called Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen.
Ms. Chi Cafe. 3829 Main Street, Culver City, CA.
Update: Susan Yoon was added as a chef of Wolfdown and Chase Valencia was changed to Chad Valencia.