Restaurant Review: Velvet Hauteur at Angie Mar’s Le B.

Mar, who was born in Seattle, is Chinese American, and, for all of her evident Francophilia, she threads her menu at Le B. with references to her heritage, as well as to its historical interpretations. Her cooking feels most assured, most alive, when she’s playing in the space between Chinese and chinoiserie, as in a white-peppery take on bird’s nest soup, or a sweetly tannic oolong glacé. The dish I was most excited to try was what Mar calls her Salad “Chinoise,” a take on that ubiquitous mid-tier-restaurant assemblage often called Chinese chicken salad: a mix of greens, canned mandarin segments, and crispy noodles in a sesame dressing. The dish likely originated in the nineteen-sixties by the Chinese-born chef Sylvia Cheng Wu, of Los Angeles’s celebrity hot spot Madame Wu’s Garden, and rocketed to mass-culture status with the help of the Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck, who put a version of it on the menu at his L.A. restaurant Chinois on Main, at the height of the eighties Asian-fusion craze. The salad has, in some circles, become shorthand for a certain strain of culinary whitewashing—it is neither authentically nor coherently Chinese. Its components combine into what the journalist Bonnie Tsui has described as “non-Asian-Americans . . . making up their own version of Asianness.”

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It’s no wonder that such a dish would be irresistible to Mar, and her version of Chinese chicken salad is perhaps the best thing on Le B.’s menu. A stark green pile of baby lettuce leaves is punctuated by brilliant magenta orchid petals, peppery and tender. A bit of fresh tarragon is draped over the top, along with near-translucent ribbons of carrot and radish, but the action of the dish takes place in the dressing. It’s made with fresh satsuma juice and a bit of heat that blossoms on the tongue, plus the symphonic combination that’s instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever eaten lunch at a shopping mall: a slick of toasty sesame oil, a vivid slash of ginger. The whole thing is topped with a crackling, golden tuile made from chicken drippings—a nod to the crisp noodles, the tender meat, both and neither. The dish is bold and zingy, French and Chinese at once, but mostly it’s Mar’s own creation. It takes vision to pull off something like this, both a reclamation and a subversion, especially without sacrificing even an ounce of glamour. ♦

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