Ch'i Public House Opens in SoNo - Exceptional Asian-Inspired Cuisine

Jeff "jfood" Schlesinger

Ch’i Public House opened in late November in the space formerly occupied by Ocean Drive and Red Lulu on Washington Street in SoNo. The forces behind the new Asian-inspired restaurant are Rob Moss, Marco Siguenza and Dave Studwell, owners of neighboring Washington Prime. Overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef Mark Taruna, whose long career spans attending the French Culinary Institute and working as the Sous Chef for Nobu Matsushisa at Nobu. He subsequently joined The Food Network and ran the Iron Chef kitchen where he worked with Morimoto, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. He brings a new level of creativity to many classic recipes with bold flavors and textures, from the simplest dumpling to the most complex sauces.

Ch’i is a key concept in Feng Shui, defined as universal energy, the energy that surrounds us all, and the interior has been revamped to a vibrant, yet relaxed Asian motif. Your journey begins with a long entryway leading to the large bar area, with thirteen bar stools and sofas to seat ten guests. The two-story dining area features a floor to ceiling waterfall, with slowly trickling water cascading on small statues of Buddha and several other walls adorned with indented shelves that house additional Buddha statues. Off to the side is a private dining room, which can serve up to twelve people, with the main dining area offering two U-shaped booths for six people plus additional seating for 24 guests. The second-floor balcony has additional table seating for over 50 plus a second semi-private area with sofas for ten.

CTbites was invited to sample an array of dishes and I was so impressed that I returned a few nights later to enjoy others.

Start your meal with the Hot & Sour Soup. The enormous bowl is filled with a velvety thick broth loaded with crispy vegetables. The first notable difference from other hot and sour soups is the inclusion of large segments of numerous types of mushrooms. It delivered more a moderate spicy than sour, a balance that I enjoyed. If a lighter soup is desired, order the Miso Soup, which is slightly thicker, more flavorful and less salty than what is commonly found in the area. If you are looking for perfect fried dumplings, order the fried pork gyoza. These were paper-thin wrappers filled with minced pork and crispy vegetables. They were outstanding, maybe the best I have eaten.

My favorite smaller plate was the Yellowtail Tartare, which was beautiful to the eye as well as the palate. The diced tuna was encased in a ring of thinly sliced cucumbers, topped with thin wedges of avocado, small mounds of red and black fish roe, micro greens and plated with dollops of wasabi cream, yuzu and cucumber-lime sauce. The array of differing and complementing flavors was outstanding, the sweets balanced by a little hint of spiciness was fantastic with the yellowtail.

With a few shrimp options on the menu, the appetizer of Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp was so delicious we ordered it again on a subsequent visit. Five shrimp were lightly coated and perfectly fried and sat atop an outstanding sauce, surrounded by grilled thin asparagus spears and droplets of hoisin sauce. The moist shrimp were a great canvas to complement one of the most delicious sweet and spicy sauces. The dish presented a wonderful sweet-spicy-crunchy combination in very subtle manners. Add a touch of hoisin for additional depth 

The Hamachi and Salmon Sashimi included eight large triangular pieces of fresh fish served with freshly grated wasabi and intermingled with thin lemon slices. The inclusion of freshly grated versus powdered wasabi enhanced the delicateness of the sashimi with a mild spiciness and floral tones.

Somewhat disappointing was the Beef Tataki. Ch’i’s interpretation included six chunks of beef (versus the traditional pounded) that sat atop a slice of cucumber and topped with vegetables and finished with crisped onions and sauce. The first piece was a little overcooked, while the second was much better. This would be a nice selection to share amongst a few guests. 

The Toban Djan Shrimp was simple in its presentation, complex in its components, and fantastic. Toban Djan is a fermented paste that combines hot chilies with broad beans. Several large shrimp were fanned around a mound of onions and red peppers, topped with frizzled onions and served next to a cone of Jasmine rice, a smattering of asparagus pieces and sauce. The dish presented an abundance of flavors, from the slight spiciness of the sauce, supplemented by Thai basil, garlic and crab paste for additional umami, to sweetness of the peppers and onions, to the delicate and moist rice.

The beef Filet was delicious and presented yet another new flavor profile. The beautifully seasoned tenderloin was prepared to a perfect medium-rare and sat atop sautéed onions and red peppers and charred asparagus. It was accompanied by thyme and butter roasted red potatoes, which were crisped on the exterior and soft and creamy throughout. The complementing sauce combined a sweet-spicy chili paste, from the Szechuan province, with Toban Djan garlic butter, which elevated all of the ingredients.

Accompanying dishes received the same attention to detail. The Pork Belly Fried Rice was a large bowl of lightly soy accented rice, intermixed with an abundance of thin slices of roasted pork belly and diced red pepper. Instead of scrambling and including the egg within the rice, Chef Mark layered a crispy fried egg on top. Open the yolk to release its creamy goodness and enjoy the sweet pork intermingled with the slightly salty rice.

Desserts are both simple and elegant. The cylinders of pound cake were layered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, Amaretto and reduced lychee sauces, plus lychees and caramelized pineapple segments. It was delicious.

Overall, the food is outstanding at Ch’i Public House. The environment is hip, exciting and filled with positive chi. With only a few weeks under its belt, Ch’i is experiencing some opening service issues. Seating, timing of delivery and the overall customer focus needs a little attention. But the food was well worth overlooking these minor annoyances.

Really Liked

  • Hot and Sour Soup ($6)
  • Shanghai Pork Ribs ($15)
  • Yellowtail Tartare ($16)
  • Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp ($14)
  • Pork Gyoza ($12)
  • Filet Mignon ($32)
  • Toban Djan Shrimp ($24)

Liked

  • Miso Soup ($7)
  • Beef Tataki ($14)

Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review. The first visit was provided without charge and the author paid for the second visit. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.



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