Twenty Eight

So I first tried Top Chef finalist Shirley Chung’s cooking at her pop up at The Playground 2.0.  I liked most of the food we had there, especially her hand cut noodles.  It was a pricey meal to say the least, but I like to support new talent and understand that sometimes you are paying, not just for the food, but the experience as well.  We all, Teety and Soprano Man included, have been patiently awaiting the opening of her very own restaurant in the strangest of locations, Irvine, California.  It’s not in the hippest or happening part of Irvine either.  It’s surrounded by offices and businesses.  I guess Shirley is trying to cater to the working crowd?  We convened here on a Friday night, but the restaurant was frankly dead.  BAD sign right?
 

Twice Cooked Pork Belly Buns steamed then fried, red braised pork belly, condensed milk

Soprano Man and I started out at the bar while we waited for Teety.  I was imagining the open faced white steamed buns with some thick yummy slabs of pork belly sandwiched in between, Momofuku style.  These were the actually buns like at dim sum, but deep fried which was a different twist.  The filling had an anise aroma which was another twist.  I also was not familiar with dipping these savory buns in condensed milk so I passed.  I think when dough is fried, the result should be something light and fluffy but these were too dense.  They weren’t bad, but not good enough to order again.

 

Spicy Sticky Wings fried mary’s organic wings, sweet and spicy chili sauce

Wow, these were terrible.  Too sticky, too sweet.  You could probably get better wings from Wing Stop.  Sorry Shirley.

Twenty Eight Roast Duck Salad roast duck, chicories, citrus, duck jus dressing

I followed a certain blogger and took his/her recommendations which were not good recommendations.  The duck here is not good.  And the duck in this salad tasted like yesterday’s leftovers.  The dressing itself was really nice.  It seems like a good idea to take meat juices and jazz it up into a vinaigrette.  I’m stealing that idea.  I appreciated the use of chicories since it added some bitterness and elevation to the dish as a whole.

Shao Mai chicken, lap chang sausage, shitake mushrooms

This was another recommendation, and this was NOT good.  Just average, overpriced, mediocre excuses for Shao Mai.  Sorry Shirley.

Singapore Style Chili Lobster whole maine lobster, hand cut cilantro noodles, tangy and spicy farm egg sauce

OK, so FINALLY they bring something good out of the kitchen.  I actually let Teety and Soprano Man have the tails and I just fished out meat from the claws and head.  The meat was sweet and succulent.  My dining companions complained that their tails were overcooked.  Ironic that the best part turned out to be less desirable part.  The sauce was just a little tangy but I wouldn’t say it was very spicy.  I guess my spice-O-meter is still recovering from Night + Market.  What I loved the most about this dish was actually the noodles.  Green as the Jolly Green Giant, those noodles were, but I’m not sure I detected strong cilantro notes.  Still though, they were chewy, al dente, and sopped up that sauce very nicely.

Twenty Eight Roast Duck housemade lotus crepes, radish, cucumbers, scallions, twenty eight duck sauce

Ugh.  I’m still annoyed that we wasted our money on this duck.   Too meh for real words.  I would put an angry emoji face here but blogspot does not support emojis.  WTF?  Everything was flavorless and I would have preferred some store bought hoisin over their house made stuff.

 

Fire Phoenix jasmine tea smoked mary’s organic chicken

Ooook Shirley, now you show us why you’re a WINNER!  It’s hard to impress me with chicken, but this chicken was finger-lickin’ good.  Skin was crispy, meat had this incredibly smokiness to it.  Wow is all I have to say.  I’ve never tasted anything like this.

Beijing Zha Jiang Mian handcut noodles, minced pork, fermented black bean sauce, watermelon radish, cucumbers

Ok so the first version of this was waaay salty.  I asked to send it back and they sent us a better version.  I think if you’re Chinese and you grew up eating something like this, you might think your grandma’s version is better.  I, however, did not grow up eating this, so to me it’s tasty though the version I had at her pop-up was slightly better.

I was not familiar with eating these radishes on the side.
Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli minced shitake, poached farm egg 

Ok, it just looks like Chinese broccoli, but it might be one of the tastiest versions I’ve eaten.  Big on umami and that poached egg just added some runny lusciousness for bonus points.

Squid Ink Hand Cut Noodles uni, jalapeños, ginger scallion pesto

We were pretty stuffed by this point, but I sorta felt like I was unlikely to return to Twenty Eight and I wanted Soprano Man to try the uni noodles.  They were pretty unique at her pop up, having strong ginger and scallion notes.  Maybe too strong.  This version was the opposite.  Much more dry and muted flavors.  The noodles themselves were the star of the show, so perfect and chewy.  Hand cut noodles are ugly no doubt, like scraggly skinny worms.

Petit Tasting:

Good Fortune dark chocolate mousse, coconut gelee, chocolate wafer, curry croquant, edible fortune

Tofu Panna Cotta house press soymilk, red bean ice cream, ginger espuma, roasted salty peanut crumble

Rum Roasted Green Apple Tapioca coconut tapioca, brown sugar and five spice granita, thai basil

Shirley Chung needs to pack up her knives and go home for her desserts.  Pretty and elegant but not tasty AT ALL.  The Yelpers who rave about that tofu panna cotta need to go have a really good panna cotta and see if this one even compares.  Her tofu panna cotta was just as unappetizing as the first time.  The green apple tapioca was frankly strange.  The only passable dessert was the chocolate one because it’s sorta hard to mess up chocolate if you ask me.

While I applaud Shirley Chung’s first restaurant opening since her Top Chef fame, I am disappointed at the food that she is putting out.  First of all, with such a new restaurant, she should be manning the kitchen for like the first 6 months.  Michael Voltaggio was working his kitchen when I visited ink. early on.  If you want people to know your food, you should be showing us your food, not your recipes prepared by someone else.  It was very obvious that she prepared some of the very same dishes were a more deft hand than whoever was preparing our food that night.  The appetizers were frankly mediocre, the duck should be avoided, but damn that chicken, those noodles, and her Chinese broccoli were some tasty dishes.
I’m really going to ding her for the restaurant space, decor, and location, which I normally don’t comment on for the food blog.  The location is just terrible, with nothing around but office buildings.  The space is gigantic and could probably fit over 100 people?  I’m not sure what business model can sustain this restaurant, because based on the number of diners on that Friday night, this place won’t survive past the 1 year mark.  The lighting was so strange being some strange combination of too soft and too bright.  You’ll have to go there and see for yourself to understand.  Honestly, I think she needs to scale down the size of her restaurant, create and open kitchen concept so people can SEE the ACTUAL Shirley Chung in the kitchen cooking the food, rework the crappy appetizers, and make the fine dining cuisine actually worthy of the hefty fine dining price tag.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome!

8 – Very good

7 – Good (for the noodles and broccoli)

6 – OK

5 – Average

4 – Not bad

3 – Not good (factoring in price point)
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT go here

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