In 2010, Alex Chu’s Dim Sum Truck hit the streets when the nouveau food truck scene was white-hot (after pioneers like Kogi and The Grilled Cheese Truck paved the way) and the public’s appetite for street cruisine appeared insatiable. There never was a better time to hawk food on four wheels, but there never was a harder time either. With competition fierce, hundreds of food trucks fought for turf, and regulations for the mobile kitchens were nonexistent or haphazardly enforced, making it extremely tough to earn a living. But the experience for Chu was priceless—as trial-by-fire lessons can be.
The Dim Sum Truck rung up its last BBQ pork bun and handed in its keys back in 2012. Chu then pursued other interests and, along the way, garnered experience in the chain-restaurant world by working for Mendocino Farms’ corporate office. After briefly flirting with the idea of opening up a concept in San Francisco’s SoMa district, Chu decided to put down roots in L.A. where it all began for him. Last Sunday, he officially opened his new restaurant and take-out joint New School Kitchen on Sawtelle Boulevard, only a few blocks south from where he launched Dim Sum Truck. It’s a petite space, with seating for about nine inside as well as a few outdoor tables.
New School Kitchen presents its fare in two categories: New School Specials and Old School Dim Sum. The dim sum, according to Chu, includes the “greatest hits from Dim Sum Truck,” like shu mai, har gow, baked BBQ pork buns, lotus-leaf sticky rice, shrimp and chive dumplings, and Portuguese-style egg tarts (the ones with the creme brulee finish).
The New School stuff is where Chu can flex some creativity and originality, and veer from confining traditionalism. Brussels sprouts and bacon is a dish from which I suffer palate fatigue, but the version here is surprisingly vibrant: dulcet, spicy, and smoky flavors without any bitterness, thanks largely to thick squares of sweet-chili bacon. The New School Hainan Chicken is cooked sous-vide and might ruffle some purist feathers. Breast meat is an option, but so is bone-on dark meat. And Chu insists there is no compromising with the ginger and scallion sauce or the chicken rice.
Also, the pulled pork in Chu’s sliders have been sous-vide for 24 hours. The pork belly bao runneth over with slabs of soft, tender meat, drizzled with hoisin plum sauce, while balanced by pickled cucumbers along with red and green onions.
You might have noticed the pork-centric options on the New School side of the board. That’s no accident. New School Kitchen doubles as a test kitchen for Chu’s future endeavors, with his next one possibly called New School BBQ Gastropub.
In the back of the house, Chu is mastering and fine-tuning dishes like cha siu baby back ribs, curry-spiced brisket, and even fried chicken. The idea is to apply American barbecue techniques while applying Asian flavors.
Consider this a heads-up from Alex Chu’s New School. Class dismissed.
New School Kitchen, 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., ste. 106, Los Angeles, 424-832-3445