Could tiny Lomita be the next frontier for Chinese food in Los Angeles? The South Bay city next to Torrance is still a long way from earning a catchy neighborhood nickname, but is already swaying locals with a pair of recent openings.
Ruiji Sichuan Cuisine is a larger restaurant that started delivering tongue-tingling spice last year, and now comes Muodu Shanghai Cuisine. This two-month-old, family-run restaurant deals in dough-based dishes and riffs on Shanghai’s nickname, which translates from Mandarin as “magic city.”
The Yuan family, who owns Muodu Shanghai Cuisine, moved to L.A. 10 years ago from Shanghai. Lucy and Gordon run the business, and son Jimmy manages the front of house. Gordon previously worked as a hotel manager in Shanghai and frequently collaborated with the on-site restaurant, sparking his interest, while his mother worked for the phone company.
Their tiny restaurant on the corner of Towne Plaza features a red L-shaped counter up front, along with black-and-white photo mural of bygone Shanghai. The dining room is lined with orange 3D tiles shaped like pyramids, a bold contrast to the basic wood banquettes. Everything else inside the small space is focused on the plate, and it shows.
That focus, plus raw materials and making most foods in-house, are three key factors that help differentiate Muodu from many other casual Chinese restaurants that have started to proliferate outside of the San Gabriel Valley stronghold.
Steamed soup dumplings (6 for $6.25), better known as xiao long bao, arrive in bamboo steamers with beautifully pursed skins and textbook pleating. Skins are thicker than customers will find with Din Tai Fung’s platonic ideal of XLB, but still plenty supple. They also need a bit more bulk in order to contain the rich, generous soup filling.
Signature pan-fried pork buns ($5.75), aka sheng jian bao, have grown in popularity thanks to famous fans like David Chang. In this case, steamed buns are studded with black sesame seeds and pan-fried. Muodu’s version is excellent, sporting crispy bases with great give and pork fillings with prodigious soup. Warning: big bites will result in scalding spurts. Better to bite top first to let these golf ball sized buns blow off some steam. Pouring vinegar into the opening speeds cooling a bit and helps to balance the filling’s richness.
The sesame green onion pancake ($4.25) is another dough-based wonder, a fluffy fried pancake with minimal grease and light scallion flecking that’s a half-inch thick, but tastes ethereal. This plate alone warrants a detour.
The flour noodles themselves may be house-made, but aren’t especially elastic or special on their own. However, they do provide a comforting base for a few different soups. Braised lamb noodle soup ($10.75) is Muodu’s best bet, loaded with tender chunks of slow-cooked lamb, carrots, and dates for sweetness, rooted in a mild red broth and topped with clipped scallions.
The meatball noodle soup ($8.75) is more subtle, but still satisfying. A single braised Shanghai-style lion’s head meatball showcased soft and crumbly pork and arrived with noodles and scallions in a bowl of mild pork and chicken broth. Each table holds a ceramic ramekin of house-made chile sauce featuring a fire-red sludge, a thinner middle section and a sesame-lined top that delivered a slow burn. Spoon on slowly to prevent fiery palate fatigue.
Meals this carb-heavy call for at least a small dose of protein. The restaurant’s pounded, breaded, boneless, and deep-fried chop ($5.75) was golden and crispy and came with a surprising dipping sauce: house-made ranch dressing. If ranch is truly having a moment, as the New York Times claims, this dish is hard evidence.
Considering how ambitious Muodu is with their food in such a diminutive space, the family deserves more than the prices they’re charging customers. Their food is practically a public service.
Orange pyramid walls and ranch dressing are both pretty surprising given the traditional Shanghainese craft that Muodu Shanghai Cuisine is practicing in the kitchen. That said, the Yuan family clearly knows the rules, so of course they can break a couple for fun.
Muodu Shanghai Cuisine, 2418 Lomita Blvd., Lomita, 424.263.5530
Source: Eater LA – All