Manhattan Beach has turned into quite the culinary mecca of late with the relatively new thriving seafood restaurant, Fishing With Dynamite, sitting beside it's older, but equally popular sibling M.B. Post. Just across the street sits six months old Little Sister who is family to Hermosa Beach's Abigaile's. Can all of these restaurants survive or will they all go the way of the fast closing Chez Soi that came and went under 5 months as did the Little Sister predecessor, Hamptons, who didn't make it any longer?
The space has been completely overhauled since Hamptons left town. Shelves of wine and sake bottles line the back wall and hover over a softly lit bar. Wood planked floors blend into rugged concrete walls giving a pretty aesthetic, but unfortunately an extremely loud one as well. Add overly aggressive hip hop music overhead, and you'll find yourself yelling across the table to your friends or waitress, or possibly dancing to the tunes, depending on who you are.
The menu is Southeast Asian, but the waitress also threw in French, which caused me to raise an eyebrow. I hadn't seen most of these dishes in France, though wish I had. There's shaky beef and Singapore chili soft shelled crab, along with Vietnamese coconut chicken curry and a mixed seafood hotpot. There's no hard alcohol, but they do serve several brews on tap to pair with the spicy Asian food, and spicy it is.
We were instructed to take the fried imperial rolls stuffed with a melange of shrimp, crab, and pork and wrap it in the lettuce or basil and then dip it into the roasted peanut, chili lime sauce. The lettuce did double duty in keeping my hands grease-free while also keeping the ingredients together for dipping. The basil added nice flavor and contrast.
The duck satay came on skewers hidden beneath an edible hay, sprinkled with almonds and sitting on a bed of caramelized pear in a gingered tamarind dressing. The meat was moist and the spices played well with the sweetness of the sauce and fruit. But man, you just can't get away from the hay trend - no matter if you're in a new hip of-the-moment locale or a restaurant serving Asian cuisine. I suppose there's many places for it.
Each dish was fiery with red jalapeño providing heat and spice, but there was always a counter balance like in the shrimp papaya salad. Spicy grilled prawns were offset by the cooling effect of mango and cucumber, and the lemongrass-cilantro dressing brought different notes to tie it all in. That's what I love most about Asian cuisine - the interplay of all the flavors on the palate. And then there's the cool beer or crisp wine to wash it all down.
Will Little Sister make it? Judging by the full house on a Tuesday evening, I would think they have at least a little staying power. They just may want to think about a little sound proofing or at least lowering the Jay-Z soundtrack.