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Windy | Apr 24, 200503:41 PM     9

Martin and Jing called to say they were headed into the city for lunch and did I want to meet them out at Mandarin Islamic. For years Martin's been on a quest for Xinjiang food, in the far reaches of Brooklyn and Queens. And Shocker's told me more than once how much he likes the Old Mandarin.

The menu isn't dominated by Central Asian dishes, but their offerings are apparently similar enough to Islamic restaurants in northern China to make Jing (who comes from Tianjin) feel at home. It's a very modest place way out on Vicente by the beach. The kitchen is sunny and open. Service is relaxed and friendly.

There's a Chinese menu listing specialties on the tabletop, but I think most or all of those items were on the English menu.

We shared:
27 Mandarin lamb
63 stirred flour ball with vegetables
65 Peking beef pie
66 West Lake lamb dumplings

We also asked about #29, listed in English as Extremely Hot Pepper but which Martin said in Chinese was more along the lines of "if you eat this, it will kill you." The waiter tried to talk us out of it a few times, which only made me insist we order it. We didn't get to try one of their famous warm pots, a large clay pot served variously with "boiled lamb ball," seafood, or tofu.

Everything was good. We split on what our favorites were.

Not surprisingly, the cumin lamb was coated in a lot of cumin; probably too much for me. I liked the water chestnuts in it. I found the meat pie tasty, served piping hot between layers of philo-like dough but somewhat bland and greasy.

The "stired" flour balls were tiny dumplings the size of scallops. I enjoyed the texture for the same reason I like tapioca. Probably better to order with lamb or chicken; the vegetables were less exciting than the flour balls themselves and there's not a lot of sauce.

I loved the West Lake lamb dumplings. Not sure why they're named for West Lake--is Hangzhou known for dumplings? Or is there some other West Lake that's a dumpling center? These are northern style, with thick doughy wrappers, boiled. The insides were juicy and flavorful with just enough green onion to season the ground lamb; I took a few home and microwaved them for breakfast.

The hot peppers to kill you made an impressive entrance. When Martin had asked what was actually in the dish, all we heard was "you must like very spicy food! If you like food that's only a little spicy, don't order this!" A huge plate arrived heaped with dried red peppers, chopped green peppers, bits of omelet, and tiny pieces beef in a pool of hot red oil. The texture was almost like machaca.

This is a winner, even if one portion is enough for a month. I saw it more as a condiment than as an entree. Or a jolt for your immune system. We barely made a dent in the mountain of spice; it was even hotter the next day. (But don't be scared off--by the standards of what I ate in Sichuan and Yunnan, not even hot.)

Total came to $48 plus tip for 3 adults including rice and a couple of sodas.

So what else is good here?

Old Mandarin Islamic
3132 Vicente & 42nd Ave
415 564 3481

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