Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sino Restaurant & Lounge
In San Jose, Calif., Silicon Valley types will be able to dig into $48 porterhouses served with a dipping sauce of Chinese five-spice powder and honey mustard at Chris Yeo's Sino (Sept. 25; entrées $10 to $48). Mr. Yeo is behind the popular pan-Asian Straits chain in the Bay Area..

- Katy McLaughlin, WSJ

I've always associated restaurants in certain areas in the Peninsula (Palo Alto, Santana Row, etc) to be akin to those in Manhattan and Los Angeles: featuring stylish, swanky interiors and offering aesthetically- (but certainly not always palate-) dazzling plates. With the advent of the dot-com boom, many of these Vegas-type restaurants had come to populate the Peninsula, while San Francisco's restaurants have remained, for the most part, substance over style.

While I primarily choose restaurants based on the food, I believe that atmosphere contributes a great deal to the dining experience. I have a certain appreciation for nice interior design, and when a hang-out place is what I'm looking for, elegant lounges are my thing. That said, I've been wanting to check out Sino (pronounced Sigh-No) Restaurant and Lounge, Chris Yeo of Straights Cafe's latest see-and-be-seen hotspot on Santana Row. I see Santana Row as San Jose's own Vegas strip; it's fake as hell but it's fun.

I love the authenticity of the eating implements in this place setting.

I rarely stray from my mainstay for good dim sum, Koi Palace. While the prices are higher than your average dim sum joint, I find it extremely reasonable for the quality you get. Sino's prices are considerably higher, with cheapest items starting at 3.75; I think Koi starts at 2.50? In any case, it's still cheap compared with western style tapas, but this is Asian food we're talking about, and generally, it's cheap. But then again, when was the last time you had dim sum in the States in this setting?

Oh, I enjoy bathroom decor too.

And ominous corridors.

Char Siu Bao - bbq pork, oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar in a cornstarch and cake flour bun ($3.75)
The bun was decent, but not as fluffy and light as Koi. The innards were a bit too salty, and the pork wasn't as delicate or lean either.

Scallop Mushroom Dumpling - scallop, carrot and shrimp in a rice flour wrapper ($4.25)

It beats me why the creative folks at Sino would include "mushroom" in the name of the dumpling if it, ingeniously, contains no mushroom! The shrimp and scallop, accented with bamboo shoots, were fresh and had a nice bounce. The wrapper, though, was way too soft and broke apart very easily.

Stuffed Mushroom - fresh mushroom, ground shrimp, black bean sauce and chicken stock ($4.25)

I enjoyed this quite a bit. The stuffed mushrooms were lightly panned fried, slightly browned without being too greasy. The ground shrimp stuffing was quite good, and was well complimented with the sweet and savory black bean sauce.

Crab dumplings - not on menu ($4.75)

The perfectly-seasoned stuffing was generous in crab meat with whole chunks of shrimp. However, it suffered the same fate as the scallop dumplings with the utterly weak wrapper.

Siu Mai - pork, mushroom, shrimp and tobiko in an egg and flour (wonton skin) wrapper

I thought Sino's siu mai was pretty decent too. The pork was wonderfully juicy yet lean, and the wrapper was thin and delicate. I am often wary of siu mai since they are usually heavy, but that was not the case with these.

Curry Chicken Puff - dark meat, curry powder, coconut milk, butter and egg in a cake flour wrapper ($4.75)

This was my favorite dim sum item. The crust was wonderfully buttery and crumbly, and the top crust lended a slight flakiness. The curry chicken insides were lean and aromatic, more on the sweet than savory side (typical of Chinese and Japanese curries). I daresay their meat-filled puffs are stronger than Kois.

Vegetarian Dumpling - bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, carrot and shiitake mushrooms in a rice flour wrapper

This was another weak dumpling. The innards were bland and made even more boring with such a thick wrapper, which is typically used with the Chiu-Chow style dumplings. They seriously need to work on their wrappers.

Snow Crab Fried Rice with Toasted Pine Nuts ($15)

This was a very mediocre fried rice. It wasn't greasy, I'll give them that, but it was so bland I wondered if they were using a weak range. It also tasted as if if the snow crab were mixed in at the end, since the rice tasted exclusively like soy sauce and out-of-the-bag mixed vegetables. The rice was also way too soft, missing the slight chewiness that comes from a well-executed fried rice.

Overall, Sino's dim sum is passable if you are really craving dim sum and happen to be strolling on Santana Row. It is extremely overpriced for what you get, but it really isn't bad for what I expected to be a "style over substance" type place like Sino. I'd skip the food and go for drinks and lounging.

Sino Restaurant and Lounge
377 Santana Row, STE 1000
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 247-8880



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your dark and sultry pictures because they remind me of Ms. Jordan Baker, or maybe an exotic oriental version of her. I also like the phonetics of the dim sum plate names. Very authentic. :]

8/04/2006 8:17 PM  
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