This week, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison writes an ode to Xiang La Hui, one of the San Gabriel Valley’s new standout Sichuan restaurants. Xiang La Hui is a new restaurant from Chongqing natives Will Wang and chef Ning Du in an area already full of Sichuan standbys such as Sichuan Impression, Chengdu Taste, and Chengdu Impression. Addison starts with an introduction to the steaming, fiery cauldron of mao xue wang, a stew chock full of meats (including Spam), chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns:
Xue means “blood,” and cubes of jellied duck’s blood also bob in the mix. Its smoothness resembles silken tofu. Circling back to the stew’s broth: It hums with piercing heat, but flavors of ginger and star anise chime through with intentional clarity.
With so many Sichuan restaurants, Xiang La Hui goes for depth instead of just intensity of spice. Even the fried chicken gets a nuanced upgrade from sometimes rote versions at other places in SGV:
I’d more eagerly jump into the fire with la zi ji, the Chongqing-style nuggets of boneless chicken marinated in over three dozen spices and fried before landing in a confetti of dried red chiles. This is a Sichuan restaurant standby done exceptionally well. Each bite radiates a tingling aura — a sensation so visceral that I envision it literally spreading out like an expanding halo across the taste buds.
Other dishes such as mapo tofu, cumin toothpick lamb, and tilapia with pickled vegetable soup get highlights from Wang and Du’s Alhambra restaurant. Now, will the SGV diners finally pack into the new Sichuan star?
Meanwhile, LA Times critic Patricia Escárcega highlights Bianca Bakery at Culver City’s Hayden Tract, a rather straightforward restaurant in one of LA’s trendiest outdoor malls. Founded by Gianni and Nicola Vietina, who come from the Madeo family of restaurants, and pastry chef Federico Fernandez, who was previously at the Four Seasons, Bianca is a stellar new all-day bakery and cafe with polished European vibes:
Everything is served on photogenic blue floral china in a light-filled dining room with plush, pinstripe booths that contrast subtly against big ornate gold mirrors and dark bistro tables. Diligent servers in button-down shirts swoop in to fold your white cloth napkins and refill water glasses as if you were sitting in the city’s most high-toned dining room. A sidewalk patio, flanked by shrubbery and potted citrus, is filled with the sounds of conversational French or Italian dampened by the rough din of traffic on Washington Boulevard.
The seafood shines in particular on the menu:
Grilled seafood dishes are studies in simplicity and elegance, rarely dressed with more than olive oil and salt. They include whole branzino lightly caked with salt and herbs; enormous grilled prawns served with breaded potato cakes; and best of all, cacciucco, the Tuscan seafood stew dense with springy, chewy calamari, shrimp and shellfish in a bright-red, saffron-tinged tomato broth.
Despite all the goodness in the savory department, Escárcega notes the pastries too, from the stellar cake selection to the “precision-engineered” chocolate croissants. Bianca might not have had a massive opening, but it’s caught enough attention to Culver City locals to become a beloved new addition.