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May 24, 2012 04:36 PM

Mandarin Garden in Berkeley

Funny how things happen. I was only at the north end of downtown to buy some Sundance Film Festival catalogs at a Half Price Books sale. My office mate was out sick, so it was an opportunity for me to have curry chicken in the office (she objects to the pungent aroma).

I ran into Mandarin Garden to order it and mentioned the fires at Great China and China Village. The very friendly guy at the register mentioned that one of the GC cooks (for last 3 years) was cooking there and that he could make my chicken curry more spicy in the same style as Great China. They also have the double skin dish that many adore and the same kim chi. I had always thought that the kim chi in that huge jar in the refrigerated unit on the dining floor was commercially bought. Not so, this cook makes it Korean style.

The chicken curry was almost exactly the same as at Great China with great golden color and incendiary spicing (more spicy means that they slice green chilis into it). I had to drink 2.5 glasses of water, my nose was perspiring and I had that capsicum high/feeling of well being.

So if you are jonesing for Great China, get thee to Mandarin Garden and do it Great China style.

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  1. That's a great tip.

    I've never paid attention to Mandarin Garden. But just looked at the menu posted to grubhub and it appears to have several "Mandarin" aka Shandong Korean-Chinese type dishes, such as such as chao ma mian (Korean style combination noodle soup spicy). Has anyone tried the whole crispy fried duck? Or the Peking duck?

    Edited to add: And the dessert menu has glaceed apples and bananas!

    1. I found this thread from 2003 (!) on Berkeley's Mandarin Garden,

      Wonder if it's related to Concord's Mandarin Garden, which is supposed to be quite good at Korean-Chinese standards.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Don't know if there is a connection, but I believe they have been in Berkeley for quite some time. A Chinatown born co-worker goes there for lunch all the time. I went with him a few times, but it is a little outside my lunchtime range. I recall the food as being good, but not great. It may have been a different restaurant, but I 1st had twice fried pork and garlic green beans at a restaurant on that site in the mid 70's.

        I did notice today that they had several different rock cod lunch specials for around 6.95. I plan to go back and have fish with black bean sauce. The curry chicken was 5.44 plus tax and came with lettuce with ranch? dressing and a fried wonton skin to go. They offered and I accepted extra rice.

        1. re: chocolatetartguy

          Thanks, someone in that old thread said he'd been eating there since 1979. Pls keep us posted on what you try there.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            We have not been to Mandarin Garden in several years, but it used to be a family favorite. The owners were (and I assume are) brothers (Wing and Bob, if I recall). For a short moment, they re-named the restaurant after their mother (Yu Ying Garden, I seem to recall), but soon reverted to the Mandarin Garden name. Food was especially good when Bob cooked, but could be variable (though always well above the norm).

            The menu looks much the same (not including Great China additions like Double Skin), and I do not remember kimchi in the past. The menu linked above is, I believe, pretty old. A newer online menu exists here: This new menu includes Double Skin, so I assume it is quite recent.

            Favorites for us back in the day included:

            Mandarin Meatballs w/ Vegetable - small and loosely packed, served in a strongly star anise scented sauce, really lovely when served with spinach.

            Crispy Whole Chicken - served in a thin soy based sauce with green onion.

            Lemon Chicken - I kid you not. I HATE lemon chicken, but this was different. Ten to twenty years ago the sauce at Mandarin Garden was not a bilious yellow and not overly viscous. It had actual pieces of lemon in it. And it was a bit tart.

            Stuffed Eggplant - I've never had it like this anywhere else. Eggplant slices stuffed with pork and shrimp, battered and deep fried, served in a thin soy based sauce with ginger and garlic.

            Losses from the past:

            Shredded Pork with Bean Paste - we really liked this dish, which does not appear on the current online menu.

            Stewed Cabbage or Chinese Greens w/ Chicken Oil

            The "Saute" section of the menu, which never made any sense. It was a disjointed collection of dishes, some of which have made their way to other areas of the menu. For example, Shredded Pork w/ Dried Bean Curd is now in the Pork section, where it probably should always have been. Braised Sea Cucumber has properly migrated to the Seafood section, as has Stewed Sea Cucumber with Shrimp Egg. The great Stuffed Eggplant now hangs out in the Pork section.

            The organ meat dishes have, however, disappeared entirely. Farewell to:

            Pork Tripe & Chicken Gizzard with Ginger Garlic
            Pork Kidney & Chicken Gizzard with Chinese Parsley
            Braised Pork Kidney
            Sauteed Shrimps & Pork Kidney

            Though not offal, Egg White Blended with Chicken & Fresh Seafood also appears to be a thing of the past.

            All of this leaves me both nostalgic and hopeful. We'll give Mandarin Garden a try tonight, and see how its current incarnation stacks up to our memories.

            1. re: lexdevil

              If it's the same owners, you might ask if they still make some of those dishes off-menu.

              1. re: lexdevil

                Many, many years ago there was a Cantonese restaurant (Wing Kong?) on that block. Would that be the same owner family?

                1. re: lexdevil

                  I haven't been there for the last couple of years either. But Wing and Bob are indeed the owners, having taken over from their parents quite a while back. And yes, it was especially good when Bob cooked. The stuffed eggplant that you mentioned is one of my favorites also.

                  I believe that the Concord location is runned by their sister, as Wing used to complain that she could charge a couple of dollars more for the same thing because it was out in the suburbs.

                  They've been at the location for a lo-ong time, over 30 years, I think. Had my wedding banquet there 27 years ago.

                  1. re: Dawgmommy

                    Not sure if the guy I talked to was either Wing or Bob, but he said he used to be a cook and had to stop because his back couldn't take standing up all day. He said he hurt it originally as a 13 year old when he worked carrying heavy rice bags in China.

                    1. re: Dawgmommy

                      Happy to report that the stuffed eggplant is still very tasty. The string beans w/ a bit of shredded pork were solid. The filling on the pot stickers had good flavor and texture (I don't like it too homogeneous). The salt and pepper calamari was less successful. Not enough salt or pepper, and served with a dark sweet/vinegar based sauce on the side for dipping. Will return soon for further exploration.

                      1. re: Dawgmommy

                        Thanks, any particular reason you stopped eating there?

                        Here's an old post on the Concord Mandarin Garden.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Bob is the one who cooks. I just somehow got out the habit of going there. This just reminds me to start going back there again.

                    2. re: Melanie Wong

                      A co-worker had his retirement luncheon at Mandarin Garden, where he is friends with the owner. Unfortunately I missed the luncheon because I had chipped the corner off of an implanted crown on an olive carelessly mixed into some leftover Nicoise salad from a Berkeley restaurant of some note. My dentist could only see me at the time of the luncheon. What I missed was a seven course banquet!

                      Fortunately my friends at work brought all the leftovers back for me. As a result, I had reheated and cold Mandarin Garden food for dinner for several days. I really liked the rich, meaty bbq pork chow mein, the toothsome vegetarian shrimp (tofu skins/foo jook?) rolled up into a shrimp sized package and served with a brown sauce and the garlicky beef served in a potato bird's nest. Also liked the fried banana chunks on which the sugar had caramelized. I had them cold, doused with half and half.

                      Those that attended the luncheon raved about the minced crab and egg white dish served on bow and the kung pao prawns.

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. Note: This discussion was split off from news about a fire at Great China in Berkeley,

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Thanks for cross referencing and sorry for my crossness.

                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                        We all have those days. Hope you have some delicious dinner plans!

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Leftover pork meatballs with baby bok choy and the excellent hot sauce from Little Shanghai.

                          Although not so named on the menu, I was thinking they were the same as Lionshead meatballs. They are loosely bound meat in a mild brown sauce. Would they be Lionshead?

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        Great China fire thread ->

                        cut off one digit and get a 6 year old thread on turkey burgers in LA! :)

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Interesting...I work on the Berkeley campus and occasionally go out for lunch with colleagues/guests. I've only experienced Great China and Mandarin Garden for lunch, generally pushed toward the lunch specials by the waitstaff and large group ordering and have found them equivalent, in their good execution of Americanized Chinese dishes (and lunch specialness which generally involves a salad, soup and eggroll). I'm not sure if I've never been given the full menu at lunch at Mandarin Garden, or it has changed, or I've just been unobservant since my generalize impression was Americanized Chinese, but I haven't noticed a lot of the menu items mentioned. I'll have to work harder the next time I return.
                          And as a sidenote, since I've never been for dinner, or ordered the two dishes chownounds rave about at Great China (Peking Duck and Double Skin (both meant to be shared, and difficult with this style of visiting lunch)) I always though of it as a very competent Americanized Chinese lunch joint, same as Mandarin Garden but a lot more crowded.

                          1. re:

                            Great China's menu has a bunch of standard Chinese-American dishes, but the Korean-Chinese / Shandong house specialties are flagged with a little yin-yang symbol. There are several on the lunch specials menu.

                            1. re:

                              I used to do that too, and you're right about the lunch specials. Compentent, but not necessarily special or different. But, I've also been to dinner at both and the menu is alot more varied. Mandarin Garden will do the traditional 2 or 3 way with the duck. I noticed that Great China just takes everything off the bone and present it to you all at once. More efficient I suppose.

                              1. re: Dawgmommy

                                For Peking Duck I prefer Daimo. At Great China I prefer the tea-smoked duck, they have duck bone soup as a separate menu item.

                          2. Mandarin Meatballs: Woo hoo! They're still really tasty. Next time I'll ask to pay extra to have them served with a green veg (an option back in the day). The bed of bean spouts didn't do much for them, but the meatballs are so yummy that I couldn't care less.

                            Double Skin: Very nice. Main difference from the Great China rendition is that Wing added the mustard and sauce to the dish separately, rather than mixing them together first. Ultimate result was nearly identical.

                            Honey Walnut Prawns: Despite the Great China chef, this dish is a pretty typical version with a thick, rich, mayo dense sauce. The Great China version was very unusual, with a thinner sauce that was orange scented.