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New & Notable: Lazy Susans, an array of dim sum, and inventive cocktails make group dining fun at XO Brasserie

New & Notable: Lazy Susans, an array of dim sum, and inventive cocktails make group dining fun at XO Brasserie
June 2024

Find modern, inventive riffs on Chinese cuisine at chef Herman Ng's North of Morrison spot

(Left) The XO wontons, stuffed with pork, shrimp, and onion and served in chile soy sauce; (Right) Mala chicken is tempura-fried and glazed in a Sichuan garlic sauce. 

Like a lot of independent restaurants, XO Brasserie started with a craving. After working in F&B management in Charleston for 15 years, Herman Ng yearned for the dim sum, noodles, and other Cantonese and Sichuan classics he grew up eating at his parents’ restaurants in Columbia. “The older I got, the more I looked and couldn’t find it,” he says. “You’d have to go to New York, San Francisco, or Chicago.”

After toying with the idea of opening his own place for years, he finally bit, opening XO Brasserie in The Morris multiuse building in the “NoMo” neighborhood in March. Ng was drawn by the blank canvas of the space (and parking!) and unleashed local design firm Lennon & Flohr with inspiration from his own R&D around the country.

Anchoring the interior is a contemporary ukiyo-e-style mural by Girls Who Paint, whose paper crane motif continues above the frame of the open kitchen. Overall, details like lazy Susans—reminiscent of dim sum emporiums of yore—and high-sided booths make for a buzzy, inviting scene.

(Left) The cocktails at XO Brasserie riff on classics with Asian flair. There’s the oolong-infused vodka, soju, and lychee in the Chinese Awakening, and a take on the paloma, On the Baiju,  which gets its fiery hue from the Korean condiment  gochujang. Both prime the palate for the Cantonese and Sichuan flavors that are woven throughout the menu,  sometimes in surprising ways; (Right) A bartender pours a couple On the Baiju cocktails.

An Indigo Hospitality Group veteran, Ng is well-versed in smooth service, as is his team. Cocktails were in hand within minutes of being seated. The strikingly orange On the Baiju brings some heat, with gochujang rounding out tequila, baiju, and citrus soda. A clear favorite was the Paper Lantern—with Japanese whisky, the Italian amaro Averna, sesame, fennel, and orange ice cubes, it drinks like a light and summery old fashioned.

Compared to traditional Chinese restaurants, where menus are virtual tomes, XO keeps the offerings tight. Ng and chef Michael Chanthavong focus on a few standards, like the steak chow fun—a rib eye-rice noodle stir-fry with signature smokiness from its time in a hot wok—and a handful of house-made dumplings, including savory siu mai stuffed with pork, mushrooms, chives, and roe in a bamboo steam box. 

The dining room welcomes large parties with lazy Susans for sharing and high-sided booths.

Much of the menu, however, is an amalgam of more modern takes with global influences. There’s a starter of burrata with serrano chile and soy—paired with deep-fried crullers—and a solid rendition of fettuccine alfredo with mushrooms and uni. Rather than the Chinese menu standby of crispy whole fish, Chanthavong serves a miso-marinated daily catch (Chilean sea bass the night I visited) over tender gai lan (Chinese broccoli) dressed in black bean-garlic-soy sauce—light and super flavorful. With just two desserts, diners may consider skipping the idea altogether, but they’d be remiss in not trying the cheeky “Midnight Snack” of fried bao buns with miso cream cheese and Fruity Pebbles.

1090 Morrison Dr. 
Tuesday-Sunday, 5-9 p.m. 
(10 p.m. on Fri. & Sat.)