Sign In


[Radar]: Xibo

Smart Xinjiang. Yes, it exists. It's Xibo -- an ethnic minority from the hills of NW Xinjiang, and a restaurant on Changshu Lu.
2010-08-17 12:08:00
Area: Xibo's on the third floor of the Platinum Food Court, a tacky new "food mall" on Changshu Lu. The only thing that stands out in this property clash -- apart from Mingle's "Fat Bitch" and "Fat Bastard" sandwiches -- is Xibo. Power through the lobby. They've hidden the taste and style on the third floor.

Velvet Lounge is around the corner, a Bi Feng Tang is across the street, The Center is just down the way. When you're up on Xibo's terrace, you're looking into the same secluded green space as Manchuria, F.C.C., and this new LimeLight thing do. A remarkable colonial villa is Xibo's immediate neighbor on that side -- it has a fault line so severe that it's only stopped from collapsing by massive steel girders bolted to the back of Xibo's building. You can see the Hilton from the restaurant's picture windows.

What it is: A chic Xinjiang restaurant. That's right: chic. It's possible. It's been done. It's on Changshu Lu. Xibo. You're kicking yourself, right? You thought of that four years ago: someplace without dancers and gold paint. You're too late. Xibo has done it. It's the brainchild of Atina Kuo, who is herself from Chabuchaer, Xinjiang -- home of the Xibo ethnic minority.

The Xibonese were noted horseback riders and archers from Dongbei, caught somewhere between Manchu and Han, when 250 years ago, the Emperor decided he could use their military skills to shore up the western front. Or they were exiled. Either way, they wound up in Chabuchaer, northwestern Xinjiang. In the intervening centuries, the Xibo of Dongbei have pretty much assimilated, while the Xibo in Xinjiang have held on to their language, culture, and pan-fried bread.

What's that mean for the food? According to Kuo, Xibonese cooking is exemplified by a roasted eggplant and pepper dish, a fish dish using the pickled jiaohao herb, lots of dried and pickled beans and vegetables, and pumpkin. Xibonese love pumpkin. The first two dishes are on the menu, the dried long beans and peppers (sent from her family back in Chabuchaer) show up in a homestyle stew dubbed susskind, the pumpkin is turned into steamed or pan-fried dumplings, and the pale Xibonese bread is pan-fried, not baked.

The overall tone of the menu reflects the province, though. It's mostly Uighur standards -- lamb, cumin, breads -- with a sprinkling of minority dishes. As Kuo is Xibo, they get top billing, but there's also stewed Kazakh-style lamb, Russian lamb chops, and so on. She's working on getting organic lamb from up in the mountains of Altay.

Atmosphere: There's a wine list and pomegranate juice alongside the standard black beer. You can order your Big Plate Chicken with or without bones. There's no fear of the staff breaking into dance. You could bring your picky parents here. You could -- gasp! -- bring a date here. That's the vibe.

Decor-wise, it's industrial cool with Xinjiang accents. Walls are concrete, chairs are black, music is tough funk, soul, and a bit of disco. Is that "Juicy Fruit?" Dun-nuh-nuh Nunh-nuh-nunh-NAH!

There's a wall of beautiful embroidered hats from the various minorities of Xinjiang (Uzbek, Hui, Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Dongxiang), a little installation of Uighur clay ovens, light fixtures in the shape of gourds, drying racks for grapes, grey walls modeled on the rooms people in Turpan use to make raisins -- that kind of thing. There's a large wrap-around terrace as well, but it's too hot for any of that these days. A long communal table runs down the center and accounts for much of the seating, so if you don't like sitting next to strangers, reserve the other tables.

Damage: Inexpensive. They have lunch sets for 30-50rmb. Dinner is in the 80-150rmb range depending on how much you drink, but the prices haven't gone as upmarket as the decor. If you measure Xinjiang restaurants on the lamb kebab index, Xibo rates a 6 (rmb/per).

Who's going: Xibo fits in nicely to this emerging trend of dressed-up regional Chinese restaurants -- Sichuan Citizen, Hunan House, and now this. It's a good idea. (Incidentally, all these places are run by ladies.) Xibo's crowd is, and will be, anyone who wants Xinjiang food in a pleasant environment. That's just about everyone. The backstory is a plus you can talk about on your date.