For those of you really keep close track of what I write, the title of this piece is a puzzle since I never wrote about an initial visit to Fifty One Kitchen in Culver City, aside from posting an Instagram/Twitter picture of their xiaolongbao a few weeks ago. However when you realize that Fifty One Kitchen is the successor to Ooak Kitchen, which was operated at the same location under the same management, then this article will now make sense.
The occasion for this return was the re-grand opening of Fifty One Kitchen which was marked by a reception, red carpet and everything.
Six months ago I wrote about the opening of Ooak Kitchen describing how this Guangzhou based vegetarian restaurant decided to open up in Culver City, instead of the San Gabriel Valley. This was particularly significant since Ooak Kitchen may well be the first Guangzhou based Chinese restaurant to open up in the Los Angeles area. A few weeks later, the restaurant added a summertime vegetarian dim sum menu of a handful of items. However just as quickly they seemed to backpedal as by mid-summer they changed the exclusively vegetarian menu into a mix of vegetarian and regular Chinese dishes, including matching the vegetarian dim sum with real versions of the same item. And just days later, with the same new menu, they changed the name of the restaurant to Fifty One Kitchen.
Getting a good sample of items at the grand re-opening reception, clearly there is talent in the kitchen. The spicy shrimp with tea leaves, a new dish not on the menu, was fantastic, and the ha gow was as good as it gets. With a number of other good items, having an occasional dinner in lieu of driving out to the San Gabriel Valley is a no brainer. But Fifty One Kitchen continues to face the same dilemma as Ooak Kitchen did--who is their target audience? Is it the local Chinese American community, which surprised me with their representation in my past visits, or is it Culver City locals? Not to say that you can't serve both, but the menu is not terribly extensive, and furthermore split among various Chinese regional cuisines, so the choices for any one particular category of diner may be limited. Then throw in something like their orange chicken, while certainly a well prepared dish, struck me as really being orange flavored rotisserie chicken, and it's hard to figure things out. I certainly hope they do, because having a good Chinese restaurant in Culver City is a really nice thing and there aren't very many Guangzhou based Chinese restaurants operating in this part of the world..