Global village in Manhattan Village
A Canadian chain brings their take on global cuisine to the South Bay
About 40 years ago, Thai science fiction writer Somtow Sucharitkil wrote several satirical stories about a future in which most of humanity’s creative energy is expended on a giant shopping mall in space. The Mallworld stories were a comic look at commercialism, at a future in which every experience humanity could offer is available within carefully maintained limits.
Those stories were written before modern mega-malls existed, in an era when it would have seemed ridiculous to go to a shopping center for multicultural food. We all live in that science fictional world, as exemplified by the Manhattan Village’s push to become a dining destination. Among the new restaurants there is Joey, a chain from Canada which offers riffs on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and contemporary cuisine. (Before you ask, they do not offer the food items you probably most associate with Canada, maple syrup and poutine. Those are from Quebec and this chain started in Vancouver, which is firmly anchored in the Pacific Rim.)
The place has a look that you only see in malls, a vast space with a high ceiling and an open kitchen that stretches all along one side of the dining room. There aren’t any tables with a close up view of that kitchen, which is a shame – I could watch the teamwork of the kitchen staff for hours. Instead, the restaurant’s tables are oriented in clusters around the central bar area, which gives a little intimacy to the hangar-like space. The decor is upscale, and so is the welcome – waiting guests are offered a glass of Spanish cava sparkling wine, and I assume they have something ready for those who are too young to drink, or don’t imbibe.
The menu doesn’t go deeply into any cuisine, and pricing on some items is a bit odd. We considered ordering hummus as a starter just to see what they could possibly do to this simple item to justify a $14 price, but instead selected Szechuan lettuce wraps, Korean fried cauliflower, and a house salad. The lettuce wraps were quite decent, the chicken crusted with spices and crisped before being tossed with chopped scallions, chili peppers, deep fried wonton strips, and a sweet soy-ginger glaze. Some spicy aioli was provided along with half a head of iceberg lettuce for wrapping, but the sauce wasn’t essential — it was fine as served.
We almost didn’t order the Korean cauliflower because my wife finds most of that cuisine too spicy, but she was feeling brave and decided to risk it. Joey’s version was on the mild side for this cuisine, the fried vegetable glazed with a sweet and sour miso paste and topped with scallions and both toasted and raw sesame seeds. A slice of lime was on the plate, and I didn’t understand why until I tried it – the fresh, tart citrus made the spicy and sesame flavors sparkle. It’s a nice trick, and one I’ll try when making this type of dish at home.
We had ordered the house salad partly in case the cauliflower was too spicy for my wife and partly as a benchmark – it’s the popular mix of greens with cranberries, almonds, and feta with vinaigrette. No superfluous innovations here – it was well-balanced and tasty.
On our first visit my wife picked the salmon topped with crushed herbs, while I ordered Indian-style butter chicken. She was curious about the salmon partly because one of the sides was described as “crispy mashed potato,” and we wanted to see what that was. It turned out to be an eggroll filled with mashed potatoes, which was sitting on top of more mashed potatoes of the non-crispy variety. The fish was quite good and the daily vegetable of asparagus nicely grilled, but the potato egg roll tasted like, well, an eggroll full of mashed potatoes. I suggest that they either rethink the item or change the description.
I had ordered the butter chicken because I’m particularly fond of it, and on arrival it looked beautiful. There was house-made naan, papadums, and a mound of pea and rice pulao around a bowl of curry that unfortunately turned out to be disappointing. The gravy was very thin and had little flavor, without heat or the mélange of spices that makes curry the savory and layered delight that it can be. My wife, who as previously mentioned is not an enthusiast for spicy flavors, agreed that it crossed the line from mild to bland.
I was gazing at my dish forlornly wondering what seasoning I might ask for to zip things up when a manager noticed I wasn’t eating and asked why. When I explained, she offered to remove it and substitute something else. I asked her to choose something that could be made fairly quickly as my wife was halfway through dinner, and she obliged with a plate of sake-glazed sea bass with wok-fired vegetables in a dashi seaweed broth. This was a major improvement and something I would highly recommend again, a fine reimagining of Japanese flavors.
On our next visit I tried another Japanese fusion item, their tataki-style steak and sushi combo, while my wife enjoyed chicken parmesan. The small steak wasn’t technically made tataki style, which involves a seared exterior, and is almost raw in the middle, but the traditional version would be a hard sell to many people. It arrived artfully arranged over a sweet ponzu sauce and was a good pairing with the seared salmon sushi that is one of two options (the other is a tuna roll). The salmon had been anointed with a sweet glaze before being flamed, so had some caramelized flavor, and the six pieces along with the steak were a light but filling meal.
The chicken parmesan had an unusual presentation, with the chicken topped with basil and cheese under a mound of spaghetti pomodoro. I would have preferred the pasta on the side, but the flavors were unerring, the pomodoro sauce spiked with a bit more Calabrian chili and black pepper than expected – enough to make it interesting but not excessive. I’d recommend ordering this but asking for it deconstructed.
We paired our meals with cocktails from a list that has some odd pricing, with middle of the road brands priced as premium. The best bets are their sangria or the watermelon drink, both of which are great summer coolers. We’ve also tried two desserts, Italian style doughnuts and an individual apple pie, and of the two I preferred the doughnuts. The crust on the pie was fine, but the filling was over-sweet and used too much cinnamon, so the natural character of the apples was obscured.
Joey has a few things to work out, but their ideas are sound and like that envisioned future, they do have something for everybody. Service is very good, environment pleasant both inside and out, and they seem to be off to a very good start.
Joey is at 3120 N. Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach. Open daily 11 a.m. – late. Parking lot, full bar, some vegan items. (310) 546-1139. Joeyrestaurants.com.
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