Restaurant review

Weird Siblings [restaurant review] – Easy to read news

When restaurant chains began to flourish in the 1930s, they targeted people who passed through strange towns and didn’t know a place that offered what they liked. If visitors saw a sign they recognized, a White Castle, A&W, Steak and Shake, or one of the other popular franchises of the day, they could pull into the parking lot already knowing what to order. As these franchises have gone global, there are variations to accommodate local tastes – I had a “Greek Mac” gyro at Athens airport McDonalds and a Big Mac with cabbage instead of lettuce in Australia. Each was a bit quirky, but recognizable as a variation of what was served at home. The promise of the immutable experience was a little bent, but not broken.

So what do you think of discovering several restaurants that have the same name but offer very different menus? The place that prompted this question was the Northern Cafe, a Chinese restaurant that one would expect to serve Northern Chinese food. I first visited a place in Westwood and found northern dishes like scallion pancakes, black bean noodles and cumin lamb, but also Sichuan dishes like dan noodles. dan and Shanghai soup dumplings. When I asked about it, a manager shrugged and told me that they initially only served northern food, but had expanded the menu without changing the name. The spicy dishes were vigorously hot and complex, and I decided to return next time I was in the area.

When I saw another one of their signs in Gardena, I stopped in and found a slightly different set of offerings including grilled whole squid and Taiwanese specialties. I was even more confused when I stopped at a place in Palos Verdes that had a smaller menu and much milder flavors. Wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the new location in El Segundo.

Sure enough, it was different and featured complex fondue stews alongside the noodles, stuffed dumplings and stir-fries that are offered at all locations. On my first visit in late August, I was craving a quick light lunch and ordered a bowl of pork wontons in a spicy sauce. They were everything I hoped for, the springy textured noodle wrapper stuffed with seasoned pork, the sauce decidedly spicy and loaded with scallions, chopped peanuts and crispy toasted garlic. I had found my new go-to Chinese restaurant in the South Bay.

Northern Cafe’s spicy gravy dumplings were exceptional and kept our reviewer coming back for more. Photo by Richard Foss

I’ve been back about once a week since, as it’s a big menu and I want to taste everything. I don’t have space in this review to write about everything we tried, so I’ll mention the highlights, disappointments, and some things to look out for.

First, the default ordering is through an app, but since the menu is so long, it involves almost endless scrolling up and down your phone’s screen. They have paper menus and will provide them upon request, and the servers were all very helpful in answering questions about their offerings. These include the serving sizes, which are substantial, so it’s worth considering if you’ve ordered too much. You’ll also need to speak to a waiter if you want to order wine or beer, as both are available but not on the online or print menu.

I recommend starting with a plate of dumplings or one of the pancakes, which are actually more like an Indian paratha than the items Americans usually drizzle with butter and syrup. They are flaky and crispy and are available with scallions in the batter or rolled in a windmill with beef or pork. The meaty versions are quite filling, so if you order this as a starter for two, you can take half home. Luckily, they warm up nicely the next day.

If you choose dumplings, there are a dozen different varieties steamed, pan-fried or boiled and drizzled with sauce like I had on my first visit. They are handmade and may take a few minutes, but are worth the wait. I happen to prefer the pork and celery filling, but I haven’t eaten any here yet that I didn’t like.

A bowl of chicken noodle soup at the Northern Cafe. Photo by Richard Foss

Most of the soups have been good too, especially the spicy and slightly smoky beef noodle soup and a chicken noodle soup with bok choy, but I wasn’t a fan of their hot and sour soup. The broth was good, spicy with a vinegary sourness, but the only things in it were eggs, tofu, green onions and mushroom strips. There must be a place in China where they prefer it like this, but I love the texture and flavor of bamboo shoots, pork, chicken and other ingredients.

Eggplant in garlic sauce and sautéed green beans were well done, fried noodles and dan dan noodles even better, and if you like Chinese food a bit conventional, you can put together a good one from these dishes. If you feel like trying something different, head to the hot pots, and if you’re feeling brave, order the house pot special. This contains your choice of beef or chicken with meatballs, corn, fishballs, crab, sausage, spam, mushrooms, imitation crab, konjac jelly, and tempura. (Spam in Chinese food, you ask? Yes, the US military introduced it to Taiwan, and it has become popular. The flavor is slightly similar to a very expensive type of Chinese ham, and the Chinese frugal l have adopted. As for the konjac jelly, it is a soup base made from gluten-free sweet potatoes and has a slightly sweet taste.)

The House Special Hot Pot is a complex blend of ingredients in a very spicy, multi-layered broth. Photo by Richard Foss

This blend of ingredients sits in a thick, heavily plant-based and very, very spicy broth. Our server warned me about this when I ordered it, and if you don’t like very peppery flavors, you should skip it. If you like hot food, this will put you in ecstasy. If you prefer something milder but still energetic, try the seafood hot pot, which has lots of fish and shellfish with vegetables. Those who prefer non-pepper food might consider the Vegetarian Hot Pot or the Chinese Sauerkraut Stew and report to me – I haven’t tried either, but plan to.

I enjoy wine with Chinese cuisine, and they usually have a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that goes well with those flavors. The only way to experience the full wine and beer selection is to head to the counter to see the bottles on display – the selection varies from day to day. Management could consider adding dry Rieslings and Vermentinos that would complement the cuisine well, and creating a wine list so servers don’t have to recite it from memory, but those are minor quibbles.

The Northern Cafe is at the back of Plaza El Segundo, near Dick’s Sporting Goods, a low-key spot that has hosted several unsuccessful catering ventures. The Northern Cafe has been the most successful business here, and I hope it survives, as it is the best traditional Chinese food I have found in a wide range. They are a bit different from the other places and very different from the rest of the South Bay pack, and deserve their success.

The Northern Cafe is located at 700 S. Allied Way in El Segundo. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parking, good wheelchair access. Moderate noise level, terrace wine and beer served. No website. (310) 616-3003. Emergency room