Los Angeles Times

Fancy Chinese food is here to stay — and it's about time

LOS ANGELES - How Chinese food in America came to be synonymous with fried noodles and sticky-sweet meat nuggets is complicated. But regardless of the history, the association comes with a stigma that persists today: Chinese food is quick and greasy, and shouldn't cost very much.

But Asian American chefs in California today are challenging long-standing ideas about how the foods they grew up eating should look and taste - and how they should be valued.

"It really is just trying to bring those familiar flavors into something different," said Mei Lin, 33, who in January opened Nightshade, an Arts District restaurant where mapo tofu lasagna, Sichuan hot quail and Cantonese curry-tinged prawn toast share menu space alongside beef tartare and her rendition of a blooming onion.

The food isn't the only thing that is evolving. Elements typically absent from traditional Chinese restaurants - tasting menus, an emphasis on service, luxe decor, innovative cocktail menus and wine pairings - are also showing up. The shift can be traced from the Bay Area down to L.A., and from the San Gabriel Valley westward.

It's not necessarily about creating Chinese restaurants with a more Western

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