Mandarin Gourmet Restaurant
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Mandarin Gourmet

"Mandarin Gourmet makes right moves"

I WASN'T planning on doing a review when we walked out of the theater. My friend and I just wanted to grab a bite and go home. Chinese food sounded good, so we found the closest one, which happened to be the Mandarin Gourmet.

The first thing we saw when we walked through the door was a chef in full cook's regalia wheeling a glazed Peking duck through a beautifully designed dining room. The delicate voice of a well-dressed hostess drew our attention from the chef, who by now was carving the duck tableside. From there, we were led to a booth under a large framed print.

The Mandarin Gourmet caught both of us by surprise. We were not expecting anything quuite this good. The last tenant at this location was the Lantern House, and I had pegged this place as just another typical Chinese restaurant. But, believe me, it's not. A lot of money and time has been poured into both the interior and the kitchen. The chefs are skilled practitioners, turning the ordinary into extraordinary dishes of good taste and attractive presentation.

The decor develops a setting rarely seen in Chinese restaurants. Clean lines, contemporary touches and cool colors create a look of chic elegance, often found in big cities, not suburban neighborhoods such as south San Jose. The residents should be pleased.

In addition to Mandarin, this restaurant also serves Sichuan cuisine, as so many Chinese restaurants do these days in an effort to draw customers with a taste for the hot and spicy.

Perhaps our only disappointment was the pu-pu platter ($7.95), consisting of egg rolls, fried won ton, teriyaki beef strips, spareribs, fried shrimp and fried chicken wings. The fried items, especially the won ton, were too hard, the spareribs too fatty. A better selection is the special cold platter ($7.95) of shrimp and scallops in a light, piquant sauce.

We began with the tangerine beef ($7.25). Pleasingly chewy slices of beef and dry tangerine peel are tossed fried in a slightly sweet yet spicy hot garlic sauce. As with all the sauces we sampled, this was reduced to optimum consistency seemingly without being forced into thickness with starch. The plate was decorated with broccoli floweres and slices of sweet oranges.

Lamb Hunan style ($7.95) convinced us that talented chefs were at work. A dish attempted and failed by so many proved a brilliant presentation at the Mandarin Gourmet. Tender slices of freshtasting (not the usual muttony) lamb wore a hot, peppery sauce with enough heat to bring tingles to the mouth, not a persistent and painful fire.

Our favorite dish was the eggplant in hot garlic sauce (4.95). The chef put just the right amount of fire on this vegetable, keeping the pieces whole and tender, not gluey and unidentifiable. Again, the sauce had good consistency while exuding a lusty fragrance of garlic and pepper.

Instead of the hot braised scallops ($9.55), which we had ordered, we received Sichuan prawns ($8.95), a snafu which was far from disappointing. Though I feel confident that the scallops would have been better, the prawns were, nonetheless, fresh and medium larger in a pepper-red sauce, blended with a balance both sweet and hot.

Dishes I want to try on my next visit are the Hunan smoked chicken, dragon and phoenix (hot braised lobster with wine sauteed chicken) and hot pepper beef steak in sizzling plate.

Our waitress had all the moves, delivering dishes quickly and arranging our table with geometric logic, but was unable to explain the food or answer even one question about the chefs or the background of the management.

If consistency can hold, I believe the Mandarin Gourmet could become one of San Jose's favorite Chinese restaurants.

"Mandarin Gourmet Lives Up To Its Name"

I've been intrigued by the external changes to the Manarin Gourmet restaurant since it changed hands and reopened with a new name in February of last year. Somehow, I just never got around to trying it out, until recently. What a pleasant surprise!

The Mandarin Gourmet is family owned and operated, and the atmosphere is a refreshing blend of cordiality and stylish sophistication. The new owners spent more than three months renovating and decorating before reopening the restaurant, and the time was well spent. The elegant decor offers a blend of traditional beauty and contemporary simplicity that creates an ideal setting for a quite supper for two or an informal family dinner.

But, of course, the most important element of any restaurant is its food, and, judging by our meal, the Mandarin Gourmet certainly lives up to its name. The restaurant offers a good variety of the standard Mandarin and Szechuan dishes, as well as some tantalizing house specials, like Dragon and Phoenix (lobster and chicken in wine sauce). Lover's Prawns (half sauteed and half hot braised) and Tea Smoked Duck.

Our meal began with the Pu-pu platter, an appetizer assortment consisting of egg rolls, teriyaki beef, fried won ton, spareribs, fried shrimp and chicken wings arranged around a small flaming grill. Next came Three Flavor Sizzling Rice Soup, liberally infused with tender shrimp, lobster and scallops, a real seafood lover's delight. For our main course, we sampled Chicken Chow Mein, Eggplant in Hot Garlic Sauce, Seafood Delight on Sizzling Plate. Lovers Prawns and, my absolute favorite, Tangerine Beef. The seafood dishes featured some of the best shrimp, lobster and scallops I've tasted. If you are in the mood for beef, however, I doubt you can do better than the Tangerine Beef.

In addition to being well prepared, the dishes were attractively presented, complete with decorative garnishes and extra touches. Our waitress, Timmie, was charming and efficient, a welcome addition to an already pleasant experience.

The Mandarin Gourmet also offers cocktails, imported or domestic beer and a wine list with selections available by the bottle or glass. the restaurant can easily accommodate large groups or banquets in the two private rooms adjacent to the main dining area.

The menu features several luncheon specials, ranging in price from $3.75 to $5.75. Our host, co-owner Richard Hung, explained that lunches are popular with local business people as well as busy shoppers from Oakridge Mall, just across the street.

Weekend dinner hours are very busy and reservations are recommended. Dinner prices are moderate but tend to be slightly higher than the corner take-out, with main courses ranging from $5.95 for most pork dishes to $12.95 for braised lobster and $22 for Peking Duck. Complete family dinners vary from $7.25 to $13.95 per person. Just the same, the cost is easily justified by the food and ambience.