CHOWDOWN AT OLD MANDARIN ISLAMIC
Eleven of us went last night for a 7:30 reservation in honor of our own Grayelf, CHr from Vancouver (as well as hubby, her "auxilliary stomach"). It was my first time there. The place is tiny, and the three big round tables were still occupied, with no end in sight. There were at least a dozen people waiting for tables, too. We didn't get seated until well after 8, but Ruth had the great idea to order two rounds of juicy dumplings to eat as as we stood on the sidewalk. In no real order of appearance, we had:
64-Westlake Lamb Dumplings
63-Three Flavor Dumplings
7-Parsely Bean Curd
28-Extremely Hot Peppers (and white rice we ordered as an afterthought, feeling we'd need it with the chilis)
62-Peking Beef Pie
47-Hot Braised Beef Tendon
65-Vegetable Pie Peking Style
54-Sour Green Sliced Fish in Warm Pot
55-Stirred Flour Ball with Three Flavor
61-Stirred Shredded Pancakes with Vegetables
46-Fish Fillet with Special Sauce
156-Spinach with Garlic
39-Hot Braised Lamb Ribs (our server urged these on us.)
36-Stirred Potatoes with Chili
71-Peking Cold Noodles with Sesame Paste (we canceled these, as we'd [clearly] over-ordered.)
69-Fried Sweet Cake (I'm assuming this was what they brought us for dessert, on the house.)
My favorites were the lamb dumplings, the Extremely Hot Peppers, the Bean Curd with Parsely (cilantro), and the braised beef tendon. I also really liked, and would have again, the sour green fish, the stirred shredded pancakes, and the potatoes.
The bean curd was a cottage cheese-like mound of fluffiness, very light and refreshing. It went really well with a little chili flake oil stirred in, and when we got the peppers, it went even better with that. The chilis were a combo of dried and fresh, thai chilis and I don't know what else, maybe Habaneros, in a salty sauce. It was also a very pretty dish, with the bright green and red chilis. At first bite, I thought "this isn't that hot!" but the heat built, and i was glad for the rice and the Peking Beef Pie, which I slathered with the chilis. The pie was otherwise a bit bland but had nice texture, not greasy. After a few bites, I'd accustomed myself to the chilis and went back for 3rds and 4ths - they were addictive. I would not come back here without having those chilis!
The braised tendon was meltingly good, in a good thick braise. The sour fish was indeed sour, with an abundance of very thin cellophane noodles (i believe) in a clear broth, and chunks of tofu. Another refreshing dish to me.
The potatoes were undercooked (purposely, i'm told) matchstick slivers, quickly wokked so that they were crispy and light, again, grease-less, with chilis. I looked this up when I got home and the recipe (no idea if authentic) i found was very simple - rice vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, sesame oil and bell pepper. I loved these, although Grayelf said they were actually OVER-cooked, from her past experience with the dish.
When the Vegetable Pie Peking Style arrived I got a whiff of something moldy - like rotting vegetables. On closer inspection, it was the pie! I was told that was Chinese leeks, and were supposed to smell that way, but after the first bite (also moldy tasting), I put mine aside, as did a couple others.
The lamb ribs our server recommended were ok, i liked the chewy consistency of the meat, but the braise was kind of gloopy and one note, sweetish.
The fish fillet with special sauce was basa, which I like, but the sauce was sweet and sour, a bit boring.
The flour balls were like little dense gnocchi, and I couldn't figure out what the three flavors were supposed to be. Didn't love this dish.
The mandarin lamb was good, very cumin-y, but not outstanding to me.
I did like the stirred shredded pancakes, as they tasted like chopped up mu shu with vegetables, without the hoisin.
The spinach with garlic was what you'd expect - garlicky, green, good.
I didn't love the fried sweet cake, which had a bean paste in the middle and was sprinkled with sugar, finding it a bit doughy for my taste.
Some of us had been afraid (yes, i was fearful!) that there would be no alcohol served, being an Islamic establishment, but thankfully, they did have beer (and maybe other such beverages, though I didn't see them on the menu.) Funnily, Boris, upon being seated, found on the floor an empty bottle of brandy, so I guess BYOB is allowed.
The tab for all this excess was about $220, including 6 Tsing Taos. We were overstuffed, and my BF was the lucky recipient of the to go boxes. (speaking of which, there was practically a whole beef pie in one of the boxes - i guess we ordered two but only finished one?)
I'm going to try to attach all the pics but I've never had good luck at doing this, so cross your fingers.
It was good meeting new CHrs and seeing old ones. Thanks, Grayelf, for a) being such an intrepid CHr, (b) coming to our City so often and introducing me to places I might not normally try, and (c) just being you! Thanks to Ruth, also, for making the arrangements for us, and for having the brilliant idea to feed us during our wait, thereby keeping us from becoming cranky CHrs.
Old Mandarin Islamic
3132 Vicente Street
(betw. 42nd and 43rd Aves.)
Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116
Here are my photos. Sorry it took so long to post them.
The cumin lamb was good but I prefer the cumin lamb at Beijing Restaurant which is a drier fried lamb and also has a bit more kick.
Although i really liked the hot pepper dish with it's very interesting combination of dried and hot, red and green peppers I found the small chicken cubes to be quite dry. Nonetheless it was a favorite.
The tendon was great. Exactly what you hope for with a dish like that.
I liked the meat pancake and appreciated that it was very fresh and crispy.
The potatoes were overdone by standards for this dish but had a pleasant bit of wok hei.
I didn't get good shots of all of the dishes (one of the fish dishes appears only in the background).
I enjoyed our very pleasant evening of good food and engaging company.
The dumplings we were served outside were very good, especially the lamb ones.
The parsley bean curd had a fresh, clean taste with nice texture, one of my favorites of the night.
The ingredients of the extremely hot pepper were cut into extremely small pieces of chicken, red thai chilies, and green chilies. I was more cautious with this than I needed to be—I left some of the thai chile pieces on my plate and really enjoyed the remaining mix of chicken and chilies.
I expected the sour green fish in warm pot to be overwhelmed by all the spicy food but the extremely sour broth stood up to the competition. It was one of my favorites. I liked the fish and the intense sour flavor but the very thin noodles glommed together and were not as nice as the wide cellophane noodles in the Beijing Restaurant version of this dish.
The beef tendon was another of my favorites—soft and tender, a great melt-in-your-mouth texture and good flavor.
The flour ball dish was pretty dull and I found the beef pancake very plain. After recoiling at the seemingly spoiled odor of the vegetable pie and then learning it was supposed to smell like that I tried it and found it quite palatable. The stirred shredded pancakes were good.
I agree with the others who found the lamb ribs uninteresting. I liked the fish fillet with special sauce-- the fish texture was good and the sauce was OK but nothing special. I enjoyed the Mandarin Lamb with its intense cumin flavor.
The complimentary dessert was mochi balls with red bean paste—about on par with similar dishes I have had elsewhere but with a heavy dusting of sugar.
The size of the restaurant was a problem and not just because of the seating delay. After an hour or so crammed into the farthest corner from the door I would have paid anything for some fresh air. However I was lucky to be surrounded by charming company and not sitting in the aisle where others had to duck to avoid the servers passing by and delivering food over their heads. Total claustrophobia was averted thanks to the mirrored side of the restaurant which made the space seem less cramped than it actually was. Next time I will take Cynsa’s hint and come on a weekday.
The evening ended with the stalest fortune cookie I have ever put into my mouth. One of the few low notes in an evening of many high notes.
Overall I enjoyed lots of great tastes, thought the food was well above average, and plan to return.
It was great to meet greyelf and Mr. greyelf and some of the other hounds whose posts I have admired but never met before. Thank you Ruth, for organizing the event—it was a big hit!
re: Robert Lauriston
Yes, we walked by the open door of the private dining room as we were leaving. I wonder if we could have requested it.
The chile dish is addictive -- it also has finely diced chicken, I think, which give it savoriness as well as heat.
I agree with Maria about the potatoes -- I actually liked that the potatoes were a little more cooked than versions I've had before, since the less-cooked versions tend to have that raw potato starchy taste. These were cooked but still firm, and the dish had a slight smokiness.
I also liked the fish with special sauce, as the sauce was sweet and gingery. I think it's just a matter of taste, because I thought the sour fish was too sour. I also didn't have any problems with the veggie pancake. I think maybe I had a hard time judging the dishes objectively: at the beginning of the meal I was too hungry and at the end of the meal I was too full!
The tendon was delicious; the lamb ribs I think would have been enjoyed more if we hadn't all been too stuffed by the time it came to appreciated a hearty braised dish. I loved the tofu dish -- it wasn't what we expected, and several people eyed it dubiously, but it ended up being not only delicious, but a good counterpoint to the stronger and heavier dishes.
The service was harried but friendly and helpful (for example they cut up the pancakes for the number in our party and served them individually, which helped with our overcrowded table).
Thanks everyone for being the usual wonderful Chowhound dining companions!
Thanks to Ruth for organizing the chowdown at Old Mandarin Islamic - the range of dishes show that OMI is not a one-trick pony of Extremely Hot Peppers. True to fashion, the 'hounds are apt to try different dishes both for risk and comparisons.
The Extremely Hot Peppers dish is as addictive as mariacarmen reflects; if you ever have leftovers for home, it makes a great condiment - e.g. perks up the morning's scrambled eggs! I wake up with cravings for these peppers. Now, I'm adding the bean curd with Chinese parsley dish to the rotation - it was refreshing comfort food... also, the meltingly tender braised beef tendon. The dumplings are always a good starter. The sour fish is stalwart and compares well to the Beiijing Restaurant version. I'd prefer the Mongolian Lamb to the Mandarin Lamb on the Chef's Specials - only because the cumin overpowered the Mandarin lamb.
I'll take a pass on the lamb ribs with the one-dimensional brown sauce, the Fish Fillet with Special Sauce, and the flour balls.
Thanks to mariacarmen for kicking off this thread detailing the dishes with pix. Welcome to the new 'hounds and old. Great to see y'all again to share a table.
Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
3132 Vicente St, San Francisco, CA 94116
Thanks to Ruth for organizing, to mariacarmen for starting this thread and to Grayelf for another excuse to overeat! Great to meet you both and the other CHers I didn't know.
I agree with most of mariacarmen's evaluations/opinions of the dishes. For me the lovely dumplings we had out on the sidewalk were high points (but I love dumplings). They were so juicy that I had to use XLB technique; nip off a corner and drink the juice and then eat the dumpling!
To be redundant, I really liked the tofu/cilantro, the hot peppers, the beef tendon and the Peking Beef Pie. From then on I was really to full to even taste much else. I did like the Vegetable Pie Peking Style - yes, it didn't smell very good but was tasty especially with a sprinkle of the black vinegar.
My overall impression of the restaurant is to get there at about 5:00 pm - then you might have a chance for a quieter less chaotic dining experience!
Again, glad to have had the chance to meet Grayelf and "auxillary stomach" and look forward to visiting Vancouver and exploring the food scene with their help - it's been about 5 yrs since we were there and a visit is long overdue!