Asian traditions in motion

The interior of Lotus Asian Grill avoids most of the cliches of Chinese restaurant decor. Photos by Richard Foss

Redondo's Lotus Asian Grill is oddly named, but their Chinese food with a smattering of Japan and Thailand works

The nomenclature of the culinary world has steadily become less precise, to the distress of academics and purists, and yawns from just about everybody else. Yes, tapas used to mean Spanish cuisine, but is now anything served on small plates. Things called martinis contain neither gin nor vermouth, and there is such a thing as a cauliflower steak, though nobody is sure why. One might ask if there are any limits to this trend, and whether words mean anything at all.

These thoughts were at the front of my mind after a visit to Lotus Asian Grill, where nothing at all on the menu comes from a grill. When I dined there the first time I kept looking for the part of the menu that listed yakitori, satay, and teriyaki, but it didn’t actually exist.

Lotus replaced the former W’s China Grill space on Pacific Coast Highway in South Redondo, and the management has put some money into refurbishing the place. The décor is contemporary with some mid-century modern touches, with some tasteful Chinese modern art to remind you what continent is celebrated here. The majority of the menu is Chinese, with a few sushi rolls and two or three Thai items to add variety. It’s not a large or particularly bold menu, and it’s short on modern novelties. But if you enjoy classic stir-fries and noodle dishes there will probably be something that looks interesting.

In the course of two visits with friends we tried four appetizers: the tempura kabocha squash, cucumber salad, salad with ginger dressing, and yellowtail carpaccio; and three soups: the wonton, hot and sour, and Thai-style spicy seafood. Unusually, they are available by the cup only, rather than family size bowls. The wonton was wholesome, with a flavorful broth and plenty of vegetables. The hot and sour hit the spot too. It had a nice balance of peppery heat and vinegar in a thick broth, with some bamboo shoots and other veggies. The Thai soup was the outlier. While it was referred to as spicy, it was very mild with only the most timid hint of ginger and chili.

The salad with ginger dressing had the same problem thanks to a dressing with hardly any ginger flavor, but the cucumber salad showed this kitchen can find the spice cabinet when they want to. It would do credit to a Korean restaurant, with zesty flavors of garlic and chili in a soy vinaigrette. This item wasn’t marked as spicy, but was one of the hotter things we had at either meal.

They resisted any urge to spice up the yellowtail carpaccio, and that was fine because good fish is best when subtly accented. This was served Italian crudo style, slices of meltingly tender fish in mixed olive oil and ponzu sauce, topped with shreds of scallion. It was an enjoyable contrast to the more complex flavor combinations in the rest of our meal.

We enjoyed that, but the star of the starters was the kabocha tempura. The squash had been sliced thin so it fried evenly after even a brief dunk in oil, and the batter was as crisp as anyone can ask for. It was served with a garlic mayonnaise-based sauce rather than the traditional soy-based sauce, and that worked nicely.

The pork belly in spicy black bean sauce goes very well with Lotus’s version of Pad Thai.

We dined family style at both meals, and ordered pork belly in black bean sauce, pad thai, crispy pepper salt chicken, Singapore noodles, shrimp with mixed vegetables, and Emperor beef. The pad thai was decent but not outstanding, cooked well enough but a bit on the bland side. But it made an excellent accompaniment to the crispy chicken. This had a scattering of large red chili peppers that are easily avoided by those who can’t take the heat, and had a slight but agreeable kick. The pork belly in spicy black bean sauce had a slightly more assertive heat that suited the salty, fatty pork, though I think I would have preferred the pork cooked a bit more to crisp up and render out the fat.

The shrimp with mixed vegetables in a white wine sauce was a good antidote to the spicier dishes. In China this probably would have been made with a sweet liquor called shaoshing wine, which has a flavor similar to sherry and imparts a mild sweetness. This tasted like a drier wine was used. Whatever it was, it worked nicely and we did some damage to the generous portion.

We were less happy with the Singapore noodle, which tasted like dry curry powder had been sprinkled on the noodles just before serving. The flavors hadn’t melded completely, and though it wasn’t bad I’ve had better.

Whoever was running the wok on the Emperor beef was at the top of their game, because the battered and fried beef in spicy plum sauce had the perfect texture, just a bit chewy inside a batter shell that was still crisp despite the sauce. If you enjoy beef, this is one to get.

We paired our meals with hot sake on one trip, cold sake and beer on the other. The selection of alcoholic beverages could be improved with some Rieslings or other wines that suit this cuisine better, but at this time there is no corkage fee so diners may bring their own.

Lotus Asian Grill has only been open two months but is already worth visiting. The service was friendly and the food reasonably priced. A server hinted that they may expand the menu in the future, and I hope they do. Perhaps they’ll even add some grilled items.

Lotus Asian Grill is at 1410 S. PCH, Redondo. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday  noon to 10:30 p.m. Sunday noon – 9:30 p.m. Parking lot in rear or street parking. Some vegan items. Beer, wine, and sake served. (310) 921-8650. ER


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