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May 14, 2012 08:44 AM

Sesame Inn Vs. Mandarin Bistro in Newbury Park

We went to Mandarin Bistro in Newbury Park for dinner last night. We don't normally go out to eat on Mother's Day but we made an exception this time and hoped we didn't make a mistake. We got there about 6:00pm and they were pretty busy, the place was full and there was a large party ahead of us. However, being just two of us and that we were next, they said it would be about 5 minutes, we decided to wait. It ended up being more like 15-20 minutes, but that was acceptable to us. Being Mother's day they were extra busy, with many large parties. I was pleased to see many tables with Asian people eating there, that's a great sign!!

This place is much larger than Sesame Inn. It is also much louder. It's basically and "L" shape, and when you walk in there are tables on the left and on the right. The kitchen is sort of in the middle and open, so you get not only the noise from the patrons but all the kitchen noise. It was quite loud in there. However, after you walk past the tables on the right, there's a small section in the "_" portion of the "L". There are only about 4 to 6 tables in there and it is far from the din of the other room, and that's where we were (luckily) seated.

The menu is beautiful with many more selections than the Sesame Inn. It's full of pictures of all the appetizers and entrées and they looked really good. We started with Hot & Sour soup and it was very good. It wasn’t the cloying type where they use too much corn starch, it was actually in a broth, the way we prefer. I like vinegar, but it wasn't overloaded with vinegar as many are. Good start.

For dinner we had Honey Walnut Shrimp, Kung Pao Chicken, Sautéed string beans and brown rice. The shrimp were delicious, the best walnut shrimp I've ever had. Sometimes when I order this dish it comes with a gooey white sauce all over the shrimp. No sauce here, just nice big delicious shrimp on a bed of rice. The Kung Pao was a little disappointing. The chicken and peanuts were good, but it was lacking the flavors I expect in this dish. There were no water chestnuts, carrots, or anything besides the chicken and peanuts. A little oyster sauce or hoisin sauce would have improved this dish dramatically. The Sautéed string beans were very good, in a nice Szechuan sauce. I think I prefer this dish at the Sesame Inn, but there was nothing wrong with this one.

Overall we were quite pleased with our meal and will definitely be returning to try other dishes. The prices were about the same as SI, and while the portions were of an adequate size, SI takes the prize for much larger portions. We expected poorer service due to being so crowded, but it wasn't bad at all and the waitress was very nice and accommodating.

It's great that we have 2 good choices for Chinese food (sort of) in the area, not close but definitely worth the drive.

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  1. Hello, LesThePress.

    We were sitting nearby! We were a table of 4 just around the "L" as you described...we began at 5:45, but our food was a little slow in coming out since it was Mother's Day. I'm sure we were sitting there while you were dining.

    It is nice to read that you like Mandarin Bistro. Our dinner last night was excellent! We ordered their Chinese broccoli, Szechuan wontons (steamed with very spicy garlic drippings), Kung Pao shrimp which was the best version of that dish that I have had anywhere, and mu shu pork. The server even brought us an extra complimentary plate of this.

    Our same group of four went recently to Sesame Inn. They were extremely nice. I don't think they take reservations, but I called ahead and asked if they would save us a table; they did so with a smile. They also assisted us in ordering.

    We found their war wonton soup to be watery, although the dumplings were good. Their other dishes -- sorry, I can't remember what we ordered -- were okay to good.

    As a group, we much prefer Mandarin Bistro. We have been there eight or nine times and it has consistently delivered delicious dinners.

    Next time you go to Mandarin Bistro, as soon as you sit down I recommend that you order their wraps. I don't remember what they are called on the menu, but if you ask for "the wraps that take a long time," I think you will receive these Chinese burritos. They are cut into four pieces and they are really, really good! I have not had anything similar in any other Chinese restaurant.

    1. "The Kung Pao was a little disappointing. The chicken and peanuts were good, but it was lacking the flavors I expect in this dish. There were no water chestnuts, carrots, or anything besides the chicken and peanuts."

      I consider the lack of carrots, water chestnut as an indication of authenticity.....

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sgee

        I also don't like too many things going on simultaneously in my food.
        Single, two or three ingredient dishes are generally preferred.

      2. I'll add one more Chinese restaurant in the Conejo to this list. We think that Lakeview Garden Chinese Restaurant (4703 Lakeview Canyon Road in Westlake Village in the County Line Center) is better than Sesame Inn.

        We always request very low oil, and even with less oil, Lakeview Garden's food is quite tasty.

        4 Replies
        1. re: liu

          To Liu, that's two times (that we know of) we've been at the same restaurant at the same time!! Since we ordered the Honey Walnut Shrimp we had the Chicken Kung Pao, next time I'll try the Shrimp Kung Pao, after I look for you!!! Since it's usually just the 2 of us, we find it difficult to order appetizers, because then we can only order two dishes, but these wraps sound good so maybe we'll order them next time as an entree.

          To Sgee, yes you are correct, however I guess I'm used to the westernized version with one or more of green bell peppers, celery, Chinese cabbage, water chestnuts, or carrots. When I make it I add water chestnuts and when I get it without I feel like I'm missing something. I guess it's a matter of what you like.

          About Lakeview Garden, Liu, we've been several times as I work about 2 miles and we live about 2 miles away. It was our our go to place for Chinese until we discovered Sesame Inn (and now Mandarin Bistro). The dishes at LG are good, and it's fine if you want a place close by, but we're in for the drive for much better grub!!

          1. re: LesThePress

            I hear you, Les. Lakeview Garden is close for us, too, but sometimes we just need to get out of our zip code! You made me laugh...I remember that we did see you at a local Indian restaurant perhaps a year ago.

            Yes, it's all a matter of personal preferences, but I still think the best we have found is Mandarin Bistro. They are extremely accommodating to your requests, so if you do not like something, they will make the dish without it.

            If you didn't notice the decor, next time take a close look at the wallpaper, the green booths and the chairs. The owner brought the wallpaper back from China. The fabrics and leather on the seatings are superior to what you will find in many dining spaces. If the owner comes by -- and she usually is walking around -- she is very friendly and anxious to talk about her restaurant.

            1. re: liu

              Thanks, liu. I'll be sure to check out the wallpaper next time. I don't remember any booths though.

              If you're talking about Nancy, she is no longer the owner, it is now owed by the nice young man who seated us, his name is Andy. I think he might be Nancy's son. We had a nice chat with our waitress about this.

              Also, about Sesame Inn, no they don't basically take reservations; I guess they made an exception for you. I don't think they'd do it for 2 people. Since it's so small, we have to get there by around 5:30pm or have a wait. We actually went to SI first, but there were 4 party's ahead of us so we tried MB, and glad we did.

              I agree with you about not too many ingredients in a dish, but both my wife and I love water chestnuts, so maybe next time we'll ask them to add them in.

              1. re: LesThePress

                Yes, Andy is Nancy's son and she has handed the rulings to him. However, Nancy holds the passion. Get her started, but bring your pajamas for a long evening stay.

                I am so glad that you ended up at Mandarin Bistro. Please let me know how they respond when you request some water chestnuts in your dishes! That response will tell me a lot more about them than anything else.

                Enjoy...and I hope to see you at Mandarin Bistro soon!

        2. My take on these two restaurants is this: They are equally good; it's just matter of taste. I prefer the Wor Won Ton soup at SI and Hot and Soup MB. Likewise, the Spicy Honey Chicken, Spicy Honey Shrimp and Kung Pao Chicken are best had at SI. The Green Pepper Beef and Shrimp with Lobster Sauce goes to MB. SI definitely has larger portions, but SI has great lunch combos. That's my take!

          1 Reply
          1. re: MyTake

            Hello, Les.

            We did not love Sesame Inn.

            We tried it a couple of months ago and I can not remember anything about it except that the taste was rather bland.

            We continue to enjoy Mandarin Bistro, although I think it is not nearly as good as when it first opened.

            Seriously, we are eating home during the week nights more and more; there are not many places in our Conejo Valley where we want to have dinner. On weekends we leave the area for good food!