First Bite: Tats and Prawns, Xino by the Bay
The top-level Dining Deck of the new Santa Monica Place mall seems almost custom-designed to make native Angelenos grumpy. The redesign scooped out all that was pleasant about the old mall, one of Frank Gehry's breakthrough projects, with all the subtlety of a melon baller cutting through a cantaloupe, and replaced it with a high-gloss sheen that would be as at home in Columbus or San Jose as it is two blocks from the sea. The Mexican restaurant was subcontracted to a chef from New York; the pizzeria from a second-tier Bay Area chain; the Japanese place and the wine bar -- nice view! -- from another middling San Francisco restaurateur.
Christie Bishop Jonagold apple, minus first bite
Chris Yeo, the chef behind Xino, is the founder of Straits Café, an overelaborate restaurant that also happens to be in San Francisco, but which does serve what is probably the best Singaporean food in the United States. Xino, decorated by an enormous image of a tattooed woman that stretches the length of the dining room, serves fashionably by-the-numbers Chinese food, sweet, crunchy, snicky-snacky prawns and beef and chicken, plus an all-day/all-night menu of dim sum -- stuffed jalapeños, pot stickers, sticky rice -- designed to go with the bar's exotic cocktails. An Asian pear martini? Hell, why not.
Xino: 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica. (310) 755-6220.