I wrote about Old Mandarin Islamic previously and was not so impressed with it as a place for dirt cheap bargain bites – the bites that manage to not surpass the $5 per entree ceiling.
After some heavy persuading by Ms. Stein, who was looking for some reminders of her time spent teaching in China (read: she’s been there, I haven’t, this was going to make for a fun visit), we ventured off to the boonies (40-something street and Vicente) to get some Saturday brunch. I was going to call this post “My Asian Muslim Restaurant” but decided against it…those of you that keep up with Bay Area news may get what I’m referring to.
Lesson learned? Go with someone who knows what the hell to order that’s unique to an Islamic-y Chinese restaurant. (The last time I went, Ms. G was nursing a nasty breakup-induced hangover and K-Dub was as useful as I was, which was not very…)
Though the place was still pretty empty, the Stein-er’s eyes were bugging out at the menu as all her old memories of time in China were suddenly unleashed.
She noted that in this sort of region, rice is not served by default, and you weren’t expected to eat it as a customary side dish (compared to the majority of Chinese restaurants which serve more Cantonese food.) “Good,” I thought to myself. “The margins on rice and tea are outrageous!” But I kept my cool and said nothing…after all, we were going mid-market here.
So we ordered the following dishes that were indeed fabulous. Even if you grimace at the sound of lamb, the different ways it’s prepared here could make you a believer.
- West Lake Lamb Dumpling (12) – $6.95: Served fresh and piping hot, bursting with juice. Pretty darn good with a tiny dab of soy sauce and my usual hot sauce.
- Vegetable Pie Peking Style (2) – $7.50: These reminded me of 2 huge fat Taco Bell gorditas or TB pizzas (if they still sell them) but the filling was fully enclosed in the patty. Again, served hot and fresh off the frying pan. These were pretty big and filling, especially when we had more dishes to slobber over. You’ve got to like chives with this – definitely noticeable in taste but not overbearing.
- Mongolian Tofu – $7.95: Not your Cantonese restaurant’s rendition of Ma Po Tofu. In fact, quite different, which is why I think there’s a full color picture of it on the menu. I actually like this one better because there’s no cornstarchy brown sauce coating it. (Which begats a need for rice, you see….) Also, the tofu is different. Instead of cubes of soft tofu, you get rectangular columns of deep fried tofu over a bed of sauteed white onions, sauteed green onions, and some crispy rice noodles and chili peppers. So this is a dry dish, and it was a good accompaniment to the juicy dumplings.
- Mandarin (?) Lamb – $9.95: I can’t find the more accurate name that this dish has been called, which is Cumin Lamb. Who knew cumin invaded the land of my people?? This is another dry dish of sliced lamb stir fried with green onions and tons of cumin. It’s fascinatingly tasty…almost Indian/Pakistani food-like but still since it’s dry, it’s not like I’d ever find this dish at Shalimar. It is a little saltier, which made me think that some people would be looking for some rice to offset the taste. But we went back to the more mild dishes like the dumplings and the tofu to rebalance our tastebuds.
So four dishes for a Saturday brunch split between 2 over-eager grubgirls meant lots of leftovers. Our bill came to the mid-$30s, and we put in an even $20 each with leftovers of everything. I would say that portion size is about right, per plate, for 2 people that don’t go crazy. So I’m going to list this in the mid-range meals section unless someone else also is spending a lot here.
Let us know what else you’ve ordered here that is unique and that you’d recommend!