iChina: High-End Chinese Gourmet Dining Links Past to the Future
By Kathy Chin Leong

Celebrating my husband Frank’s retirement and Father’s Day and birthday was enough reason to go to iChina for the first time. Saving up my freelance allowance money, this high-end dining experience had to be reserved for something really, really splendid, and bundling a triple whammy celebration into one seemed like a good idea.

Located at Westfield Valley Fair shopping center in Santa Clara, iChina is all about savoring each moment, so linger, linger, linger.  If you have ever been to Asia, you know that the high-end restaurants over there are over-the-top, visual cornucopias.  iChina delivers a similar feel.  You leave the confines of the cotton candy-scented mall, and all of a sudden you are whisked to another time period, inside an imperial, fine dining establishment with floor-to-ceiling windows, jade-hued glass, high ceilings, and gold gilded accents. No doubt, this enterprise is a multi-million dollar gamble in Silicon Valley, and word on the street is that the owners are a group of investors from China.  In fact, many of the furnishings and most of the décor and building elements come from China.   

By the way, the entrée prices run from $18 to $108 so prepare your pocketbook accordingly.  Figure at least $100 to $150 per person, including a cocktail, if you want to thoroughly enjoy a multi-course dinner without skimping.  Now operating off an a la carte menu, diners can dive into dishes such as Cantonese style steamed fish, crab garlic noodles, and the stellar A5 wagyu beef.  Portions are small but reasonable compared to traditional Chinese family style restaurants. Remember, this is fine dining.   At iChina, the professional wait staff who will honor you, and the delicious interiors that will flirt with you.

Chef Eddie Lam took the executive helm when the restaurant opened last August, and now, one year later, he continues to deliver on inventive dishes that burst with tantalizing flavors he has culled from land and sea.  He puts a new artful spin on things like shrimp dumplings which are topped with yellow, orange, and black flying fish roe. The dumpling resembles a dainty light green purse atop a circle of house-made vinegar soy sauce. 

“My goal at iChina is to take guests on a journey to discover Chinese flavors as they’ve never tasted before,” says Chef Lam. To that extent, he grabs locally-sourced produce and selects what he deems is the best high-grade meats and seafood from around the globe.  New on the seasonal menu are seafood soup dumplings, typhoon jumbo soft shell crab, and 48-hour hong siu pork belly.  A new fall menu is already on the docket.

OUR FAMILY EVENT
On our special night in June, we got dressed up.  We stepped into the chandeliered dining room filled with jade green tiles and gold trimmed glass windows, and we felt like royalty even though that sounds cliché.  After being escorted and seated at our round stone table, we anticipated a gourmet extravaganza when we spied the place setting of custom gold and jade green chopsticks together with a gold fork and spoon.  It did not take long for each of us to whip out our phones to snap photos. It was a Wednesday and, unfortunately, very few diners were there.  I figured people were still leery about eating indoors. 

We swooned over the summer five-course tasting menu that featured winter melon and kohlrabi soup. While I generally like soup, I didn’t expect to love it.  In this bowl the flavors were infused with snow crab and bay scallops, so fresh they were practically swimming in my mouth.  The petrale sole entrée was prepared with corn purée, sautéed fresh corn, and summer squash. Each server leaned over together on cue to pour the Sichuan chili butter sauce, coating the fish. 
 
Throughout the dinner for our family of five, five wait staff would parade out, presenting our entrees in unison. No one missed a beat, and we responded like an audience enjoying movements in a concert. We oohed and aahed with each dish introduced in various plates and bowls to highlight the treasure within. 

We could not resist ordering one of the desserts called the iChina koi pond ($15).  And we were not disappointed as our waiter landed it in the middle of the table in a teal bowl with elements that looked like a mini koi pond.  The colorful and refreshing dessert that should be shared is still on the menu with a jasmine tea and chilled melon soup as the base. Floating around are muscovado gummies, mango and guava gelée, and a type of lychee pudding in the center. Kudos to executive pastry Chef Eunice Lee for her artistry and talent in the realm of sweets. 

DESIGN
Are you a design maven? According to iChina management, the entire restaurant was inspired by China’s ancient imperial palaces. And I believe it. In the downstairs JiuBa cocktail lounge, the bar lights up like a jewel box at night.  In the whopping 9,600-square-foot dining room on the second floor, pendent lights, bird cages, gold ceiling, and a custom tea tasting area features delicate tea pots handled by tea masters during formal seatings.  The private rooms with their own color schemes and unique furnishings are destinations in themselves. 

“For the interior design, our goal was to transcend ordinary dining into an extraordinary experience by immersing guests in an awe-inspiring atmosphere with stunning visuals at every glance,” said Tiffany Wu, general manager of iChina.

One banquet space in particular, was inspired by Silicon Valley innovation, which is a virtual reality room, dubbed VR Realm.  The walls surrounding a rectangular boardroom table are comprised of different colorful animated scenarios, creating an immersive experience like the immersive museum experiences that are so trendy these days. As dishes are brought to the guests, there is animation projected on the table as well. Groups can select themes such as an ethereal bamboo forest, a pond, a cherry blossom garden, a mosaic wall, and a water lantern festival. Have something to celebrate?  If you want to book the VR Room and impress your friends and family, know that it costs a minimum of   $2,500 that includes food.  The VR Room is the only one of its kind in Silicon Valley, but I’m told there is another VR banquet room at a hot pot restaurant in Las Vegas.  

Owners seemed to have spared no expense in design elements such as lavish lanterns, furnishings, silver metal ceiling, and turquoise leather walls. Custom everything has gone into hyper-drive in this design hub led by HHD Hong Kong East Holiday International Design, a group that curates seven-star hotels. Touches of Art Deco come in the guise of the clean lines and geometric shapes in the carpet and lighting designs. That is matched with Chinese lucky colors of red, gold, green, and royal blue.  There’s the magnificent bathroom for men and women festooned with mirrors, gold lines, and jade colored glass walls throughout.  I have never seen anything so fancy and felt as though I was in a Las Vegas lavatory. You must visit if you come to iChina just to take photos here. 

BOTTOM LINE
iChina is positioned as “a refined Chinese dining concept,” and after one grand dinner here, I am ready for another.  But will the public buy into the concept of high, high end Chinese dining?  For most American-born Chinese ike me, we did not grow up with anything like this.  Going to a Chinese banquet in Chinatown with ten giant dishes served family style was as glamorous as it got.   When our family of five finished our five-course iChina meal, we smiled contentedly, and we all thought, “We want them to make it.” 
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DETAILS:
iChina Restaurant
Westfield Valley Fair
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara
408.352.5405

www.ichinarestaurant.com 

 


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