Cleaned the Taste Right Out

I was curious to check out the newest dining outpost from the same family that brought Crustaceans to San Francisco and Beverly Hills.  An Qi, located in South Coast Plaza right next door to Bloomingdales, has a hipper, trendier vibe, at least compared to Thanh Long and Crustaceans in San Francisco and seems to be catering to the more urban, cooler crowd looking for fusion-esque Vietnamese cuisine.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. I had a feeling that the food would be relatively average… It would have the hints and nuances of Vietnamese flavors while presented and served in a more refined and cleaner way than you would expect from traditional places that you would find just 10min north off the 405 Freeway in Little Saigon. I was just curious to check it out, because it looked aesthetically interesting and we were shopping in South Coast, so why not, right?

We started off with the Dumpling of the Sea  which were essentially potstickers filled with shrimp, fish, shitake mushrooms, onion and cilantro.  Each order came with four dumplings.  It wasn’t like you could really taste the shrimp or fish in the filling, but they weren’t too bad in terms of general taste. They just didn’t taste as good as I would have liked.

Then we got two things from the salad section, the Seafood Salad and Spicy Tuna Salad.  The Seafood Salad was poached shrimps and scallops over a plate of miso-dressed mixed greens.  The shrimps were a good size but like the scallop, there wasn’t too much flavor on it’s own. The miso dressing was good though, so you really had to eat it all together to get any sort of flavor and texture. The Spicy Tuna Salad was a dollop or two (and I truly emphasize dollop) of spicy tuna (like what you would find inside a spicy tuna roll) on top of one or two crispy-fried wontons and placed on a bed of mixed greens.  I liked the spicy tuna mix, but there was so little of it, so I didn’t want to eat too much so that everyone else got to taste some. Both salads were okay, and salads in general tend to be overpriced for what they are, but I thought both of these were outright robbery.  I think both salads were $11.

The main entrees (if you can really call them that) were two orders of the An Famous Garlic Noodles and two soups, the Balsamic Glazed Japanese Eggplant which was prepared in a dashi broth and a Seafood Wonton Soup.  Admittedly, the garlic noodles weren’t as sinfully delicious as I remember them being from when I had them at Crustaceans, but I was more disappointed by the serving size. Supposedly, it was meant for two, but seriously, one person could finish it off and still be hungry! What I did like was that they seemed to refine the preparation of the garlic noodles so that they still had all the buttery garlic flavor while not dripping in oil and fat. It made me feel a lot less guilty about indulging myself in an extra helping.  The wonton soup was nothing special. It tasted like any other wonton, and you really couldn’t tell if it was a seafood dumpling or a meat one, not that it was bad. It just didn’t have any distinct seafood flavors. The eggplant soup was not good at all. There was this strange noodle that was a cross between soba and linguini and cooked al dente. The pasta/noodle was all wrong the way some fusion dishes are when they try to combine both cuisines and sorely fail.  Moreover, the broth was rather bland and uninteresting. The best part of the soup was probably the eggplant, but again, it wasn’t anything particularly distinctive about it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures, but it’s probably better that way since the food looked better than it tasted so any pictorial description would probably unfairly skew the judgment of the food. Overall, the restaurant was mediocre.  In an attempt to appeal to the masses and maybe more of a chi chi crowd, they ended up diluting most of the distinct Vietnamese flavors and shrinking down the portions of the dishes to bring down the prices. However, we were there for lunch where they have a more limited menu. The dinner menu looks like it offers some more substantive dishes but at a significantly high price point typical of a South Coast Plaza restaurant.  Nevertheless, I doubt that those dishes would necessarily taste any better. There was so much potential and expectation when you think of the pedigree that includes Crustaceans and Thanh Long, but I think they’ve fallen off the wrong side of the Fusion truck and failed to bring truly refined Vietnamese food for the masses.

An Qi
3333 S. Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

PAFO Ratings for An Qi:
Price 3 ½ stars
Ambiance 4 stars
Food 2 ½ stars
Overall rating 2 ½ stars


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