The start of my birthday celebrations brought us to Manhattan Beach. My friends and I are huge fans of the restaurant scene in the area but this time, we wanted to check out something we hadn’t tried before. Just across the street from two of our favorite Manhattan Beach restaurants — Chef David Lefevre’s two incredible offerings, MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite — is Little Sister.
I actually had no idea the restaurant belonged to Tin Vuong, formerly of Sapphire in Laguna Beach. I had met Chef Vuong at the Kitchen Takeover event at Abigail’s early this year and knew he had opened WildCraft Sourdough Pizza, but I didn’t know he was affiliated with Little Sister as well.
We arrived early for our 5.30pm reservation and immediately ordered a large bottle of Shimizo-No-Mai Pure Snow ($24) chilled sake. It arrives in an earthen serving vessel which continued to keep the sake cold throughout our meal. The milky rice wine was very palatable and had a slight hint of sweetness to it.
Ma La Beef Tartare ($12) was our first dish of the night. I love “ma la”, the flavor and sensation attributed to the Szechuan peppercorn. The numbing effects of the peppercorn is exhilarating, perhaps a little intoxicating even. The tartare had only a hint of the “ma la” and although I wasn’t able to taste the pear, I detected the pine nuts here and there. The bone marrow vin and quail egg helped elevate the flavors, however, the beef was a bit too chewy and could have been diced smaller.
XO Pea Tendrils ($8) was absolutely perfect. Crazy how I’ve never thought to use conpoy (dried scallops) shards when I make my pea tendrils. I didn’t care for the crushed almonds because its flavor overpowered the delicate tendrils, but the addition of lime juice was a very nice touch.
I was excited to try Confit Duck “Goi Vit” ($14), a Vietnamese style salad with red cabbage, sweet onions, carrots, green papaya and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The salted apricot vin it was tossed in needed more heat and more acid. I asked for lime wedges and more chilis and added them to the salad. At this point, Chef Vuong stopped by the table and asked us how everything was tasting — I didn’t think he remembered me. I told him that the salad lacked the heat and tartness I was accustomed to. We had a quick discussion and I guess the clientele dictates the flavors. So when you visit Little Sister, tell them you want it hardcore if you want it authentic.
If you like spices make sure you ask for some sambal. Our server Jessica brought out four for us to try.
Vietnamese Crepe “Banh Xeo” ($14) is a favorite of mine and this did not disappoint. Stuffed with pork belly, prawns, bean sprouts, various herbs and greens, it was a refined version of the banh xeo I eat regularly in Lil Saigon. The nuoc cham house dressing, made with nuoc mam (fish sauce), was garlicky, tart with a hint of sweetness and absolutely perfect in every way.
We didn’t know which direction to take next. There were two items on the menu with curry, but I didn’t like the idea of curry overpowering scallops so we went with Vietnamese Coconut Chicken Curry ($18). I enjoyed the tartness of the broth as it lent a freshness to the entire dish. Confit potatoes tasted like regular potatoes, while the pineapple and kabocha squash added a touch of sweetness. The chicken tasted like it had been roasted or flash fried as the skin was crispy, but the curry flavor did not penetrate the meat itself, but rather, coating the exterior.
I really liked the Master Stock Jasmine Rice ($2) which we paired with the curry — although Chef Vuong gave us a sesame baguette to go with the curry an option you can have with curry in Lil Saigon. The rice had wonderful flavors and was elevated by the fried shallots and green onion toppings. Whether you go for rice or bread, both are good ways to sop up the remaining curry sauce.
Salt & Pepper Lobster ($38) was the piece de resistance of the entire meal. A whole lobster is topped with butter fried shallots, fried chilis and garlic. I relished in the flavors enveloping the shell and chose the pieces requiring the most work. I wanted to suck all the flavor off as many crevices as possible. The accompanying salt and pepper lime dipping sauce was not necessary but tasted great if you wish to use it.
We had no room left for dessert but they offer an array of sweets served trio style. A list of items ranging from macarons, panna cotta and profiterole as well as souffle allows you to mix and match three of your favorites to complete your meal. My meal ended the minute I ate the last piece of lobster on the plate.
1131 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266