photo credit: Sarah Park
When multitasking works, a bunch of different things get done both simultaneously and well. For example, you finish a work project on schedule while booking tickets to all 18 weddings you were invited to this summer—or you succeed at paddling for shore, keeping air in your raft, and constantly checking to make sure that none of the guards can see you from Alcatraz. But when you take on too many things and don’t give them all the same level of attention, at least a few of them are bound to suffer.
There’s a lot of multitasking going on at China Live. The large Broadway St. building that houses this operation has multiple different spots inside: the Market Restaurant, a separate, $250-per-person tasting menu restaurant called Eight Tables by George Chen, a cafe, two bars, and an actual marketplace selling food products, kitchen items, and decor. Within the Market Restaurant alone—which is what we’re reviewing here—there are also several open-kitchen-style cooking stations. So depending on where you sit, you can see dumplings being fried, buns being made, Peking ducks being carved, etc. While this looks impressive and makes you excited for the meal to come, ultimately, you’re in for a disappointing and slightly confusing experience.
The menu is extensive, and once you’ve decided what you want, everything arrives pretty quickly—just not necessarily in the order you might expect (for example, buns might arrive after a noodle dish). The dumplings are not bad, but they’re inconsistent—the soup dumplings have varying amounts of broth—and the chow mein noodles and kung pao chicken are perfectly fine, just not great (our noodles were also missing their promised shrimp, pork, and chicken). Our favorite thing here is the Peking duck, which you can get as a whole or half order, or in sesame pockets with scallions, cucumber, and hoisin sauce. (We really like that you don’t have to order a whole or even half duck to try it.) The “signature” large-format Dungeness crab, on the other hand, doesn’t live up to the expectations set by its presentation and price. It takes a decent amount of effort (mainly involving sucking on the shells, or your fingers) to get the flavor—and while this is in the nature of eating crab, in this case, the taste of the dish is unmemorable given the amount of work you need to do to consume it.
The large, sleek-looking dining room has a mix of bar seating (at the cooking stations), individual tables, and communal tables. If you do come, you probably want to get one of those larger tables and hang out with a group. Just know that it gets loud—like non-rivalry-game pep rally loud—so don’t show up expecting to have a nuanced conversation that shows off your wit and subtle dramatic timing. Save that for later in the bar upstairs.
In the end, the multiple underwhelming dishes here feel like the result of a general lack of focus across the entire restaurant. It’s like the time you tried to order a last-minute Mother’s Day gift while rushing to finish your college paper on the psychological effects of always walking backwards—both things got done, but deep down you knew they could have been done better. The Market Restaurant at China Live is good enough to keep you from being angry, but nowhere near as good as it could be.
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Crispy Scallion Bread
A basket of little cinnamon-bun-shaped fried rolls studded with bits of scallion. These have the texture of Pillsbury crescents, and we didn’t dislike them, but they’re definitely not a must-order.
Sichuan “Working Hands” Dumplings, Sesame Butter, Peppercorn-Chili Broth
Sichuan dumplings with sesame butter in peppercorn chili broth. Decent, but surprisingly not spicy, and a little watery from the broth.
Xiao Long Bao With Rich Consommé
Not bad, but also not consistent. The amount of soup in each dumpling varies, and sometimes the filling is partially dissolved. The flavor of the ginger always comes through nicely, though.
Peking Duck In Sesame Pockets
Peking duck, cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce stuffed in sesame pockets. You can order plates of either three or five. This is the best thing we’ve eaten here.
Pork Belly Lotus Buns, Pao Tsai Cabbage, Peanut Glaze
The bun is tough, and the pork inside is stringy. Skip.
Charred Chinese Broccoli, King Oyster Mushrooms, Roasted Sesame
Charred chinese broccoli with mushrooms. Not too flavorful—this tasted like something it wouldn’t be hard to make at home.
China Live Signature Live Dungeness Crab
This is a large, shareable dish (cooked in salt-and-pepper style and topped with lots of peppers) that involves a decent amount of work on your part to eat. All the flavor is on the outside of the crab, so you’re in for a ballet of cracking legs open and sucking the meat out of them to get the seasoning. We wouldn’t order this again, but if you try it, make sure you’re comfortable getting messy in front of your dining companions.
House Famous Kung Pao “Firecracker” Chicken
The chicken is tender, but the flavor is single-noted and there isn’t much spice. Still, not too sweet, like some kung pao chicken can be.
Shanghai “Fat” Chow Mein, Pork, Shrimp, Chicken & Seasonal Vegetable
These were supposed to have shrimp, pork, chicken, and vegetables. Ours were missing all the shrimp. And pork. And chicken.
Sesame Soft Serve, Mango Shaved Ice, Yogurt Boba
Sesame ice cream with ribbons of mango shaved ice topped with boba balls and chocolate pearls. It all comes together really well—this is a nice dessert.