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Sino is Fine-O

December 24, 2009

A sometimes unfortunate side effect of upscale, trendy restaurants is that food quality is sacrificed for a “the place to be seen” attitude.  Luckily for Sino, located in downtown San Jose’s trendy and upscale Santana Row, this is not the case.  The bar area definitely has a young, hip vibe to it – the average age seemed to be in the mid-twenty range.  But the large-ish dining room area had a much more diverse group of consumers, from teenagers to families, couples to big groups of friends.  A large television screen was showing the Chinese martial arts film “House of Flying Daggers,” and the decor featured lots of sheer draperies and dark furniture.  All in all, it set the scene for the meal to follow.

The extensive cocktail menu featured a good selection of original creations – my dining companion had the “Good Luck Lemonade,” a refreshing blend of raspberry vodka, lemonade and cranberry juice.  I opted for the “sake flight” which featured three cold sakes of varying flavors and strength, and they were all very good.

Sino’s menu offers a wide range of dishes, mainly Chinese in origin, with some California fusion flair.  Our party started with three appetizer selections:  calamari, Kung Pao “lollipops,” and lobster and shrimp potstickers.  The calamari was fairly average, but the jalapeno vinaigrette that came with it was a nice touch.  The chicken “lollipops” were a huge hit – large, meaty chicken legs in a sweet, tangy sauce, fried just enough to crisp the outside, leaving the inside tender and juicy.  The potstickers were also very good – the lobster and shrimp flavors blended together beautifully, and the dumplings were cooked perfectly.  They came with a black vinegar dipping sauce that was a perfect compliment.

We ordered one soup and one salad.  The crab and corn chowder was decent enough – the crab flavor was very subtle (too subtle for some diners’ tastes).  The salad contained chicken, Asian pears, avocado and mixed greens, and was listed as being tossed with a peanut Hoisin dressing.  The ingredients worked fine together, but either they put the wrong dressing on it, or they didn’t have nearly enough peanut and Hoisin in the dressing, because it tasted like a light vinaigrette, which was disappointing – I was looking forward to the dressing as advertised.

We only ordered one entree, the spicy dragon prawns.  They had a great flavor with a little kick, and were accompanied by roasted cashews that nearly out shined the shrimp.  We also ordered fried rice, which came with shrimp, chicken and barbecued pork.  The rice was cooked well and was very moist, but the flavor was too light; it needed more soy sauce.  We ordered two sides as well – the spicy eggplant and the Ma Po tofu.  The eggplant was the best dish of the night.  It was cooked with chilis, garlic and Hoisin sauce, and the texture of the eggplant meat was soft and velvety, like perfectly cooked mashed potatoes.  It was a fantastic dish.  Ma Po tofu is an authentic Sechuan dish, which is normally very spicy.  Sino’s version was overcooked and mushy, and the sauce had no spiciness to speak of.  I was very excited to see this dish even on the menu, and I understand wanting to tone down the heat for American taste buds, but to make a normally very spicy dish with virtually no heat at all was a big letdown.

Overall it was a very good meal, and the variety of menu options would certainly bring me back.  With drinks and tip, the cost per person came out to a very reasonable $40, well worth the value for the amount and quality of food.

Sino is opening another restaurant in Santa Monica next year, so for all you L.A. diners who haven’t found a trendy, upscale Chinese place with fairly high quality food, I’d recommend giving Sino a go.  The Mouse House Kitchen gives Sino 4 out of 5 stars!

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