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Aug 23, 2008 01:01 PM

further adventures in restaurant roulette

In my continuing efforts to eat at every restaurant in Palo Alto, GF and I played restaurant roulette last weekend. We've got a (shorter and shorter) list of every restaurant in the greater university ave area [our first focal point] that we've not eaten at, and we call up for three numbers: a primary, secondary, and tertiary.

By the rules of the game, you're only allowed to go after the secondary or tertiary if there's no tables available or the target restaurant is closed.

I think of restaurant roulette like russian roulette. Some day, the Cheesecake Factory is going to come up, and we're going to have to eat there. *shiver*.

Thus we found ourselves at Mandrin Gourmet. I've always kind of liked the looks of the place, but Yelp is far past unenthusiastic [but what does yelp know], and it's very hard to eat chinese in PA when MV and San Mateo are so close and so good.

MG is not my style of chinese. The room is hushed, tables are far apart, the room is lit "atmospherically", which is to say, dimly. We considered eating at the (empty) bar so we could watch some olympics and not fall asleep, but ended up at a rather nice booth.

The menu is about 90% old-line chinese american favorites, but there's some more interesting options. We started with water dumplings in spicy oil sauce, which were decent, good tooth to the dough, bright ginger taste, nice hot oil. Changsha chicken, which I always confuse with 1000 chili chicken, was tasty too, served in a foil pouch, a small amount of heat, nice non-gloopy clean taste. Mongolian lamb was a nice cut of lamb, slight amount of gamy taste to make it interesting.

Overall, not bad. "Clean" in a california way, with a certain snap to the veggies. Reminded me a little of Eliza's in SF. Not authentic, but not bad. I think the price was a bit north of $40 for two with no beer.

I'd have to call it my favorite chinese in university ave at this point, as I've had nothing but highly american food at Jing Jing and the unmemorable place next to Jing Jing, and my old favorite Windy's is closed [windy's was hit or miss, but homey, fast and cheap and usually decent]. This is not saying much, but there you go.

Honestly, I would take parents there. I think of GF's parents, who think *any* chinese is exotic. They'd be comforted by the surroundings, and would probably enjoy the lemon chicken, and I could have something a little more sprightly. Given they dragged us to Su Hong *menlo park* last time they were here, this would be a firm upgrade. Although I should really talk them into a 15 minute drive for the Good Stuff.

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  1. <<<Some day, the Cheesecake Factory is going to come up, and we're going to have to eat there. *shiver*.>>>

    I think I would invoke the #1 CH exclusion where chains (at least non local) don't get to play. Great game, can't wait to see what else you come up with.

    1. Danger Will Robinson. Oops! I mean bbulkow. As a noted gourmet and astronomer has stated "The Leland Stanford Junior College area is something of a culinary black hole."
      Robert Lauriston

      6 Replies
      1. re: wolfe

        It's a worthy challenge, none the less. No matter who you are, I bet there are quite a few restaurants in your local area you've never been to, even after years and years. And, maybe, there's a time and a place for a certain restaurant, but you've never given it a try.

        There are easily 150 restaurants within one block of University ave. We had stopped when we got down to about 50, the roulette game is to clean out the last bits. We're down to the last 30.

        One example is Evvia. I've just never liked the look of the place. But it turns out the tables near the stove are cozy, they have non-vintage retsina in proper water glasses, and do a good crispy smelt and roast lamb. More importantly, they serve until 11pm, which is likely the latest decent food in PA.

        Regarding chain exclusion, it's a chain neither of us has been to. Maybe it's great and we just don't know it? I mean, isn't that the chowhound spirit?

        After this, I will be able to report on the exact size and strength of the black hole that is PA.

        1. re: bbulkow

          Thanks for the report and for the adventurousness. My new year's resolution was to get out of the rut of just going to old favorites and trying more new places. But I haven't been quite as systematic about it!

          I've been to the Cheescake Factory on University Ave and I can assure you that it is not a hidden gem. I understand the urge to make your own decision, but remember that life is short...


          Mandarin Gourmet
          420 Ramona St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

          1. re: mdg

            We played again this weekend, and the wheel spun to Shokolaat. We had my sister in tow, and she's a vegetarian, and there was literally only one soup on the menu without meat or fish. We inquired, they said they could do a pasta with veggies, that's it. Given the size, complexity, and price of the menu, we expected better - some places will take bits and pieces of different dishes and put them together (Boulevard did that for us one night).

            We escaped up to the secondary, University Cafe. I was very happy with my dish of crab raviolis, the prawns fra diavlo was greasy and uncomplicated, the pasta and veggies that my sister ironically ended up with was OK. My roasted beet starter had no roast to it. Somewhat as expected - low execution, but a decent little place. We'd eaten lunch there a few times, never from the dinner menu, which is why it was on the list. The ravioli were the star of the meal. I've enjoyed the PigWitch for lunch.

            We also noticed the new place, Joya, was doing land-office business. *Gorgeous* room, reminded me of some of the new Las Vegas restaurants in its polish, windows open on the street, perfect after the art fair this weekend. We tried to eat there, but they were full up. The menu was tapas inspired, but a quick glance showed lots of the california/modern staples like tuna tartare, so the place has a strike against it.

            We also noticed that Rossi & Blanco closed, so our Roulette list got shorter.

            1. re: bbulkow

              When are you are sans vegetarians I recommend you go back to Shokolaat. As most reviews have commented the portions are a bit precious, particularly for the area, but it might just be a meal with some memorable dishes. I really enjoyed the escargot mini-casserole we had as an appetizer and the quail in puff pastry.

              1. re: bbulkow

                This is such a fun and brave idea. Glad you're reporting on it. I think I'm much too much of a control freak to do this myself.

            2. re: bbulkow


              Evvia Estiatorio
              420 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301