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[PDX] Mandarin House, "Authentic" Chinese?

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[PDX] Mandarin House, "Authentic" Chinese?

sambamaster | Jun 1, 2008 10:28 AM

Well, yes, it seems, or closer than other places in PDX, it seems, though I certainly have not been to all.
After reading a few postings here about this place, had to check it out to see if they, indeed, did something besides Chinese for American Taste style food. The answer, happily, is yes. But you really have to dig a bit to get it. The problem is, most of the good stuff, apparently, is on the untranslated Chinese menu, and the waiters I had were not terribly competent in helping with translations, but I won't get into that. We did end up with two really decent versions of Sichuan classics, and a couple of duds. The duds, by the way, were from the translated menu.

From what I've read, the chef there did some training in Sichuan, so there is some of that represented on the menu. Thank the Lawd! After being exposed to "real" Chinese for Chinese Taste, I just can't go back to even well prepared American Chinese....NYC, SF, LA, Seattle, even Austin TX now have great examples of this style of cooking and, now, at least to some extent, so does Portland.

Had to try the lauded Xiao Long Bao, the Shanghai soup dumpling. Just had some great ones in NYC two weeks ago and was hoping for something close that that juicy, spurting goodness. Unfortunately, that well was dry, at least last night...the dumplings were a bit leathery, and not a sign of the fabled soup inside. I'm sure the turnover on these is light here and these appeared to have a bit of shelf wear...not fresh at all, but the flavor was good, just no "burst-in-your-mouth" sexiness to the things. Maybe ask about freshness before ordering....?
Next we ordered the "Szechuan Noodles" which are really the classic Sichuan street food, Dan Dan Mian. Again, having just had them in NYC at Chengdu Heaven, and current fave food stall on the NYC boards, and having made a decent rendition at home last week, I was hoping for more than the mess of soft, over cooked noodles presented here. Aside from the gooey noodles, the spicing was not quite correct, it was good, just not what I've now had in about 10 different Sichuan places around the USA.... even so, I could recommend this dish IF they can promise not to over cook the noodles.

Now to the untranslated menu. Somehow, the waiter hit on one dish I absolutely love right off the bat when I'd requested some of the Sichuan dishes: Water Boiled Fish. However, I really wanted the beef version and that's what we got. It was really quite yummy, plenty of chile heat and Sichuan peppercorn numbingness...the broth was perfect, or almost...maybe a tad on the salty side. But the beef slices were tender, the napa cabbage tucked nicely under and, overall, a hit. One thing it featured that I'd never seen in this dish before was a generous handful of whole red chiles floating on top...normally, the dish is sprinkled with a heavy dusting of chile and sichuan peppercorn powder, and often a bit of cilantro...these were missing, but the dish was still very very good.

Then I'd asked if they had any of the traditional cold dishes of Sichuan, specifically "strange flavor chicken" or another cold chicken dish which features and amazing chile/garlic sauce adorning cold, poached chicken. The waiter seemed to describe such a dish and I tried to confirm with him twice that the chicken was indeed cold, and so on. "Yes," he said repeatedly. WEll, the dish that came out was not cold, and not the dish described. It was, however, another Sichuan specialty I love, Chongqing chicken...the famous dish with, often, 100 red chiles burying tasty morsels of fried chicken cubes. This version was a bit lighter on the chile count, but tasty nonetheless--it was covered with a yummy sprinkle of garlic bits fried with Sichuan peppercorns. Another winner. But don't ask me how to get them to understand what you want. Maybe just describe it, write down "Chongqing" or something. There is not translated name.

Anyway, I'm ready to delve deeper into their offerings, will take some translation cheat sheets I have to perhaps make more sense out of the Chinese menu. I'm sure there are some really great dishes buried therein.

If anyone else has further experience here, please post. And if someone who speaks Chinese could get a copy of the menu and translate, that would do us 'hounds a favor, and this restaurant as well.

A place certainly worth exploring.

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