Photo Credit: Bobby Navarro
Let me first say, Chinese food and seafood are not my favorite type of food. I share this sentiment with many people. Usually people go out for Italian or Americana, and this is only because of fear of trying something new. Well Twenty Eight thinks outside of the box, Chef Shirley Chung’s interpretation of Chinese flavors with a California kick, they truly go beyond the boundaries, and will change your mind about Chinese food. Here are twenty eight reasons how:
Growing up in a traditional Chinese household, Chef Shirley uses her heritage to create a truly authentic taste. However, being a Top Chef finalist does not come just to those who can only cook from their heritage, you need to be with the times. Chef Shirley explained to me how she uses a modern twist with a California fresh feel. This fusion is not only tasty and filling, but it can fit with everyone’s palette.
There are not a lot of high class Chinese places, let alone affordable. With its modern and classy look (to match its amazing cuisine), you will feel like you are on top of the world, without breaking a sweat on your bill.
Located near the beautiful campus of UCI, Twenty Eight even provides valet parking steps away from the front door of the restaurant!
Ambiance is very important to a restaurant. It not only sets the theme for the diners, but it creates a mood within the consumer that can directly affect their culinary experience. By having enough space for private events, you must check this place out for its amazing look.
Inside, you will first experience a contemporary bar, with very comfortable seating and the aroma of smoky wood. This leads into the large indoor AND outdoor dining area!
A friendly and experienced staff (lead by Chef Shirley Chung and seasoned restaurateur Stacie Tran) will complete your dining and drink experience leaving you with a smile :).
I love a place with personality. Names like Feisty Niks or Tongue and Cheek; I love how Twenty Eight can have some fun with their names. It shows, intelligence, class, and best of all, a jovial nature, all positive vibes that flow through this restaurant.
I began the night with a wonderful craft cocktail I want to share with everyone. It is amusingly named the Feisty Niks, made with tequila, mandarin orange liqueur, and passion fruit; it is not only refreshing but also smooth and satisfying. This is just one of the many craft cocktails they offer.
Before I begin on the appetizers, I just want to commend the salsas and seasonings they use. For example, the egg rolls are served with this delectable garlic chive salsa verde. It is good enough to be its own item on the menu! Along with sweet and spicy chili sauce and California red mustard (served with their respective appetizer), Chef Shirley really knows how to blend her modern Chinese style of cuisine with that California fresh flavor we all love.
Although sporting a beautiful year round menu with Hamachi egg rolls and oxtail, they also have a seasonal menu. I love a place that changes their menu seasonally, not only to keep things novel, but to match the fresh ingredients that our wonderful state has to offer throughout the year.
Being adventurous pays off. As I said earlier, I am not usually a fan of very ethnic food for fear of trying something I wont like. Do not fear though, everything on the appetizer menu is delicious. The highlight was the Shao Mai, mainly because I have never heard of it, and I am happy I have now! With three options of fish, beef, or chicken, all complimented beautifully with their appropriate ingredients, this dumpling like appetizer even has a beautiful texture. It is not too gooey, and it is definitely not bland. This is just one of the amazing appetizers they offer.
The tongue in cheek is considered an appetizer, but this was so good, it is its own reason! Made with house cured pork head cheese and beef tongue, pickled baby carrots, and California red mustard, it is not only delicious, but beautifully served. It is thinly and expertly cut, served in very good portions.
The amazing selection of salads! This is one of those departments I usually do not frequent, but with this amazing and delicious selection, there is not a single salad I would not eat!
..To find out what Hamachi means. There may be many things you have not heard of before, but as I said earlier, do not be wary, everything is amazing! Hamachi is a type of fish, also named yellowtail, and it was amazing! It did not have a fishy taste or smell to it, it was delicious, filling, with a soft texture. With garden lettuce and glass yam noodles, this salad was pleasantly filling. Somewhere between the pickled vegetables and plum dressing (see reason 9), it was surprisingly spicy (which I loved!).
Lunch menu. Not only is there a seasonal menu, but there are a few lunch only items as well! Come by and grab a salad on your lunch break!
The red wine list. Before the main course, we were served a Don and Sons pinot noir from Sonoma. It had a bold flavor that matched the appetizers very well without being overwhelming. This is just one of the many red wines offered.
The soups. The lobster wontons, served with fennel, has a bold and pleasantly tangy taste. The meat and bone herbal tea is filling and hearty, served with a side of a savory donut, this is a meal in itself! Finally, the egg drop, with silken tofu, nori seaweed broth and melted leeks, it is smooth and delicious.
With seven different “companions” including XO sauce noodles and roasted heirloom baby carrots, they have the perfect dishes to compliment your meal.
The depth and variety of main courses. With more than a dozen choices, I keep coming back for more!
Specifically, the squid ink hand cut noodles. Chef Shirley was kind enough to give us a demonstration of how these noodles were made. It had a wonderful black color, and being hand made makes all the difference. It had such a rich flavor and hearty texture. It had a salty, seafood taste to it, but it was delightful. This is definitely a must try.
Fire Phoenix! This is a dinner only item, a jasmine tea smoked Mary’s organic chicken. Not only is it delicious, but it is famous! This is a Top Chef winning dish!!! See for yourself why the judges gave this a thumbs up.
Before the last course was offered, I decided to indulge in one of their white wines. Now, many times, restaurants may have a good wine list, but with a list this magnificent, white and red deserve their own respective reasons to visit. I tried the Franciscan, a chardonnay from Napa Valley. It was a delicious white wine that complimented the duck, which is….
The Twenty Eight Roast Whole Duck. This was absolutely delicious. It is served with house made lotus crepes and sliced radish, cucumbers, and scallions. Made with a secret duck sauce, it was delicious. I just put the meat and vegetables in the crepe (like a street taco, except it was way better!). It was succulent and filling, the duck cooked to perfection. Duck is a difficult fowl to master, but Twenty Eight does it perfectly. It was juicy and soft. It was not stringy, tough, dry, or dull. Full of flavor, seasoned perfectly, and the crepes matched! The soft, barely flakey lotus crepes were thin enough to just hold everything together, but not so thin that you would have a mess on your hands. It was not too tough either, nor was it too chewy. The crepes were warm, almost steamed, so they were juicy and flavorful.
The oxtail. Not only is it served as itself, slow braised with Shaoxing wine and maltose reduction, Napa cabbage and Fresno chili, but it is also served with fried rice! With braised oxtail, marble potatoes, watermelon radish, and scallion salad, it is a flavorful experience. Whether you choose one or the other, you have a filling and tasty meal, why not try both?
Dessert. Obviously, these reasons are not ranked in order of importance! Chef Shirley served us a tofu panna cotta. With house press soymilk, red bean ice cream, ginger espuma, and salty peanut crumble, this was a delicious example of modern flavors with Chinese roots. It was sweet and flavorful. I was hesitant at first (some of the ingredients did not sound like they would be sweet), but the expert craftsmanship created a sweet delight!
They serve tea and coffee. With a half dozen choices, this is a wonderful experience in itself! You have to go for yourself to see and try the list for yourself, I tried the jasmine tea, and I was sold!
The love, or heart and soul (XOXO). After the demonstration, Chef Shirley and Stacie gave us a parting gift, a little bit of their secret house sauce, marked with XO (similar to the XO sauce noodle). You can feel the great ambiance and positive feeling flowing through the place. More important than my predisposition to certain foods, or my thoughts on the wine list, is the initial ambiance of the restaurant. How is the lighting, how comfortable are the seats are, what part of town is this place located in….none of that matters if there is no heart. Ambiance comes from the soul of the Chef, and it affects every aspect of the dining experience. If the management and chef is happy, the servers, bartenders, everyone is happier. Watching Chef Shirley demonstrate her technique in making those squid ink noodles was a great experience, she smiled the whole time, she was excited about what she does. Inside, the vibe was lively and fun, but still classy and cool. Like Chef said, she feels like she is twenty eight forever, what an auspicious number, and appropriately named restaurant.
Well there you have it, twenty eight out of the hundreds of reasons to visit Twenty Eight. Take a one day break every week, and you have a reason to go every day of the month, and with seasonal changes to their menu, every day of the year.