There was an impromptu chow down last night at Mandarin Kitchen in Chinatown next door to the phoenix. It's an interesting little restaurant: it was totally empty when we arrived, and remained empty throughout our meal. The pictures on fried rice and egg foo yung in the window are misleading bait for the uninitiated: not at all representative of the interesting variety of dishes served there. They seem to specialize in Szechuan dishes: the menu has many of the same selections as Lao Sze Chuan, though less depth (which may or may not be a bad thing, given that the size of the menu at Lao Sze Chuan tends to inspire menu roulette even among eaters as diligent at menu reading as our faithful mayor.)
The cheap eats review of Mandarin Kitchen mentions that they specialize in HotPots, but we weren't in a do it yourself mood. They started us off with complimentary dishes of sugar and msg crusted peanuts, and shredded cabbage in garlic / chili / szechuan peppercorn oil. We also had a plate of cold sliced beef with maw, which was dressed in a very similar chili oil.
Then things got rolling with a terrific soup: whitefish fillet and vermicelli in a broth spiked with oil-toasted whole dried red chilies. The broth was greasy and filling a really nice dish, expertly divided into 7 portions by our cheerful waitress. This soup was on the chinese side of teh menu marked with two stars: our waitress recommended it. There was lamb with cumin, which was so heavy on the cumin that GWiv's eyes bugged out. Decent scallion pancakes, two orders of spicy chengdu pork dumplings which were so so. Dry chili chicken was remarkable -- little crispy nuggets of deepried chicken skin with lots and lots of toasted whole dried red chili. The chicken tasted like nothing so much as little spicy gribenes - the jewish snack that's left over when you render schmaltz from chicken skins.
I also really liked the steamed pork belly with sweet pickle - it's thick slices of chinese style uncured bacon, steamed for such a long time that it resemble potroast. It was a little like the pot roast style bacon dish at Blackbird, without the smoky crust. Really fun: i think I can safely say that I have never yet to eat a bacon dish that I didn't like. I liked this one alot. Peapod leaves fried with garlic was good. Ma Po Tofu was fine -- it had a fluorescent pink glow to it, but could've used a little more heat. The only real loser was the beef kidneys dish we had -- gloppy brown sauce on suspiciously uniform shaped kidney slices (that looked like canned mushrooms with littel internal organ flanges) with actual canned mushrooms and a medicinal industrial odor.
We skipped dessert, although there were some interesting selections, and headed to the Silver Palm to try some pie. But they're closed monday nights, so we ended up sipping whiskey and talking about barbecue at the Matchbox. It wouldn't surprise me if there was more eating afterward, but that's when i went home.