Friday, September 17, 2004

In English, Mandarin Kitchen

There is a restaurant on Archer about where it leaves Chinatown. It is perhaps one of those cursed restaurant locations. For a while a place called Mandarin Kitchen served very good "real" Szechuan food (as compared with suburban Szechuan food) including a crispy chicken dish known by Chowhounds as gribenes chicken. Alas this restaurant is gone. A new restraurant is in its spot, and in English it is still know as Mandarin Kitchen. According to ReneG who has excellent resources, the place in Chinese is now called Da Jiang Nan Bei, meaning all over the county. It, however, specializes in the food of one part of the Chinese country, Shanghai. I've been twice and enjoyed nearly everything I've had except for the whole blue crabs. SethZ writes extensively about the fried fish with seaweed, which I did not know, but to him was an exemplar of Shanghainese cooking here.

The VI family celebrated the start of a new year last night, like good Jews, with Chinese food. And boy was it good Chinese food. Too much Chinese food at Mandarin Kitchen. There are three things I love about this place. First, it is entirely easy and simple to get the house speciality, Shanghai style Chinese food. There is no hidden menu, the specials on the board are translated (look on the board inside not by the door) and the staff appreciates your appreciation for eating the Shanghai food. Second, it is entirely easy to end up with way too much food. There are about 20 appetizers, mixed between hot and cold, and on one hand these dishes, alone are not that expensive, on the other hand, I want to order nearly everyone. Then, there is a page of family style dinners where you order 3 dishes for $23 (with soup), and most of the key items on the menu are availalbe on this page including eel. Yet, you cannot stop on this page because you also have to eat something from the page of noodles and rice cakes. Third, it is entirely easy to eat so well here as the cooking is superb in nearly every dish I've tried here.

Last night we had the following:

Salty vegegable with tofu (or salty tofu with vegetable, I cannot find my menu) - This is a favorite of the chowhounditas, an impossible to eat with chopsticks fine dice of tofu and seaweed (or something else green and vegetal).

Shanghai style fried tofu - This was not what I expected, well at lest not cubes of fried tofu I thought we pass off to the kids for some protein. It was a need RST to fully explain medly of tofu, some kind of strand, mushrooms and other fungi marinated in something red, I think similar to the Fukinese stuff that comes after making rice wine but without too much of the hard to handle "barnyard" aroma.

Soup - If you need another reason to order from the family choices, this soup was it, a light brown broth with soft tiles of tofu, seaweed and earthy mushrooms.

Pondfish in spicy bean sauce - I believe pond fish is carp, but the fish came out in thin slices, unusual for this kind of fish. BIG warning for small hidden bones, but if you appreciate the taste of freshwater fish, you will enjoy this fish greatly. The bean sauce is not that spicy.

Homemade sesame pancakes stuffed with bits of something yellow and fluffy - Very good

Soup dumplings with crab and pork - Very soupy. Strong crab roe flavor so you have to like that.

Homemade noodles with chicken and vegetables - This was the primo dish of the night, and if Mandarin Kitchen had nothing else good on the menu, I would adore this restaurant just for this dish. Chewy, toothsome noodles inflused with its sauce, garnished with lots of fresh vegetables and just a bit of diced chicken.

Chinese cabbage (baby bok choy) with bean curd sheets - Lots of vitamins and contrasting textures.

Salt and pepper shrimps - A very crisp version, the salt making more of a crust. They were good but not as good as Happy Chef, and the only dish I would not order again.

Mandarin Kitchen / Da Jiang Nan Bei
2143 S Archer Av
Chicago

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