This hip, organic eatery puts a fresh and seriously fun spin on Chinese
Rack of lamb with a mustard and breadcrumb crust
photographs by hadyn lassiter
When’s the last time you ate at a Chinese restaurant and came away raving about the fresh, healthy food? For me, the answer was never—until a recent dinner at China White. After sampling the menu at this cool new eatery conceived by cb5 Restaurant Group, I set aside any Chinese-food clichés and embraced the modern take on dim sum and beyond. Think organic ingredients, crisp and colorful vegetables, fresh white-ginger and peach-infused iced green tea, and even sesame noodles that seem lighter than the norm.
That’s not to say there’s nothing naughty in store. General Tso is still invited to the table, but he’s had a makeover and appears in the form of spicy, fried fish. Classics like black-pepper beef and roast Peking duck (that would be free-range duck, of course) also dot the menu. But the overall vibe is a real departure in a setting that’s ideal for a night out with friends. “We wanted to take the food we love from San Francisco and L.A. and make it healthy, elegant and chic,” says Jody Pennette, head of cb5 who also lives in Greenwich.
The distinction was evident as we walked in and scanned the restaurant’s lab-white interior. With white leather padded walls and waiters donning white jumpsuits, the place takes a page from Clockwork Orange. Photos of Asian scenes are projected onto a large screen on one side of the room, while eight life-size ceramic cats perch on a shelf, casting good fortune on the dining room. Glass, garage-size doors (a nod to the space’s one-time use as a Lotus dealership) open to the outside, so you feel like you’re dining alfresco.
When the first plates of dim sum arrived at our round dark wood table, a friend lifted the platter of spring rolls and passed it to me. No need, we discovered, as the glass piece in the table’s center is a clever, built-in Lazy Susan, so you simply spin to deliver those dumplings to dining companions across from you. Warning: On several occasions, a drink went zooming to the other side along with the dishes, so keep that cocktail close at hand. Traditional condiments, such as duck sauce and hot mustard, are served in a trio of sleek white ramekins on a tray, but if you’re a real spice lover, request the Chef Zhou Guang Zan’s homemade hot sauce.
Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
His dim sum choices include old-school favorites, such as crispy chicken-and-peanut spring rolls and pan-fried vegetable dumplings as well as bao bao buns, which are like Chinese sliders stuffed with roast pork and a crunchy vinegary pickle with honey-cilantro sauce—outstanding. Each appetizer was better than the next, it seemed, with so much oohing and ahhing at our table you would think we were at a 4th of July fireworks display. For a lighter bite, try the sweet white shrimp, which is mixed with crispy vegetables in a light garlic sauce and served with lettuce cups, or the white salad, a toss of pear, tofu, bok choy and cashews. I loved the barbecued spare ribs with an amazing plum sauce with a hint of vanilla and sprinkled sesame seeds on top.
Among the entrees, Chef Joe’s spicy dragon chicken with red chiles and crunchy snap peas was a hit, the perfect level of spice for me. Wok-sauteed prawns in a ginger sauce topped with Thai basil tasted fresh and not overly garlicky. The dishes I’m already craving again? The spicy fried rice, an herb-laden dish with crispy shallots and a soft-cooked egg on top, and the Peking roast duck, which comes with plum sauce, cucumbers and pieces of the crackling skin to be folded into steamed pancakes—it reminds me of eating in China Town when I was a kid. When I order takeout, I’m told, there won’t be any confusion about what’s inside the white cardboard boxes, thanks to clever packaging bearing little drawings of a chicken, fish, cow, etc.
Dessert is a big part of the fun, with sweets designed for sharing. Dark chocolate wontons were devoured in minutes. For those who love to dip, try the white chocolate pot, a fondue for dunking fresh strawberries, mango, apple slices and mini rice crispy treats. While others at the table fell for the mini bao honey buns (similar to homemade mini doughnuts), I was nuts over the “white on rice,” a coconut rice pudding with mango, vanilla cream and almond pieces.
Dark Chocolate Wontons
Our meal didn’t end there, however. Soon a waiter appeared with an amusement course: a large chai tea–flavored cotton candy (white, of course) and a tray bearing Chinese character tattoos and a Magic 8 Ball. Right away, the nostalgic black ball was snatched up by others at the table, who began playing the old question-and-answer game. Once I got my hands on the 8 Ball, it was easy to predict the answer to my question, Will China White be a big success? I turned the ball over to read the words in the floating blue triangle: “Signs point to yes.”
China White Noodle Bar
249 Railroad Ave.
Take Out: 203-674-8578
Open seven days a week;
5:00 pm to 11:00 pm