Dining Outside at JiuBa
Standing two stories tall, sporting a virtual-reality private dining room with projection screens all around, and dripping with sparkly, shiny jade-hued glass and gold accents everywhere, this restaurant is a true sight to behold.
If you’re like me, though, and limiting yourself to dining outside at the moment, the bad news is that iChina, which means “love China” in Mandarin, offers only indoor dining.
However, its first-floor bar and lounge, JiuBa, does have outdoor seating.
JiuBa, which means “bar” in Mandarin, serves a much smaller menu. However, it is definitely possible to compose a full and satisfying dinner from it, as I found when I was invited in as a guest last week.
The bar inside shares the same opulent look as the rest of the restaurant, as if an enormous jade-emerald-diamond ring was the inspiration.
Even the all-gender bathroom looks as if it belongs in a modern-day Chinese palace.
The narrow outdoor dining space is stylish with golden nest chairs and marble-topped cocktail tables bounded by a wall of succulents. The tables are tiny, but the staff tries its best to stagger the dishes to accommodate.
Executive Chef Eddie Lam oversees the whole operation. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Oakland, he is the former corporate executive chef at Straits Management Group and at Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts.
The “Happy Hour” menu (3 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily) offers $8 bar bites and $10 cocktails. The after-5 p.m. menu, which we ordered from, features nine savory dishes and four desserts.
Of the more than dozen specialty cocktails, I went with the Lucky Jade ($20), a pale green, citrusy-floral tasting blend of Milagro tequila, Lillet Blanc, aloe liqueur, and Makrut lime, and adorned with a surprising “matcha whip.” Of the latter, I was expecting some modernist foam. But it was actually a head of fluffy whipped cream dusted with matcha, which actually came in handy, as the dairy helped douse the lingering heat after sampling some of the spicier dishes.
The pork and shrimp dumplings ($13) come three to an order slicked in red chili oil. They are plump with ground pork and pieces of shrimp inside wrappers that aren’t too thick.
Walnut prawns ($21) get a fanciful presentation. They’re not served in a heap on a platter. Instead, pairs of golden, battered prawns are arranged in pairs down a long plate with frisee and candied walnuts. There’s a dab of wasabi cream to give this otherwise mild dish a little touch of horseradish heat.
When ordering the mapo organic silken tofu ($21), you’re asked if you’d like a bowl of steamed rice with it. Do say “yes.” This saucy, spicy dish is made for eating with fluffy white rice. Doubanjiang, a fermented spicy bean sauce combines with black beans to amp up the heat and savoriness of custardy tofu cubes, ground Iberico pork and shiitake mushrooms.
Enveloped in a light, airy batter, the boneless crispy chili chicken ($22) will get your tongue tingling and your lips a little numb with its Sichuan peppercorns, mala oil, and red chili pods.
More of that ground Iberico pork stars in the spicy braised eggplant ($19) that’s garnished with plenty of bonito shavings on top. Black vinegar gives it a wine-y, balsamic-like note. This is my favorite way to enjoy eggplant — cooked down until it collapses into spoonable softness.
Cocktails and beer were made for crispy chicken wings ($16) in a crackling batter that’s finished with a sweet, spicy, sticky Thai bird chili-soy glaze. This dish is the epitome of messy but good.
The tuna tartare ($18) comes to the table looking like a lotus flower with shrimp chips for petals. This tartare is seared, so it’s not completely raw like you might expect. Seasoned with jalapeno garlic soy sauce, it’s also darker than most. Finished with avocado and puffed rice, it’s a dish that offers a refreshing lightness in contrast to the other sauced or glazed dishes that came before.
For dessert, the Tira-Mochi ($15) is aptly named. It’s a tiramisu-like dessert that arrives on a vivid interstellar-blue plate giving it an otherworldly look.
The half sphere reveals a foundation of delicate Japanese spongecake flavored with kinako, with a mascarpone filling surrounding a chocolate center. A bouncy, chewy mochi skin covers it all, then gets dusted with dark cocoa powder. A white chocolate-sesame poky stick balances on top. It’s a fun and satisfying dessert that blends East and West, and is sure to satisfy any mochi fan.
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