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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
    http://www.grubhub.com/sf/mandarin-ga... 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: http://www.allmenus.com/ca/berkeley/5... 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. 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 -> http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/830232

                      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: ...tm...

                          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: ...tm...

                            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.

                          1. I went there for my first time last night, enjoyed the food, and learned a lot.

                            The chef from Great China is still there, and the menu has added a lot of their specialties. In addition to the double skin, the server told me that the crab meat with ginger served in buns, prawns w/ yellow chive, and ant climbed the tree are his additions. The new menu is structured differently than the old menu Melanie linked to, but someone could do a comparison to see if there are any other additions if they wanted to learn more: http://www.allmenus.com/ca/berkeley/5...

                            The owner makes his own rice wine. Each day, he also makes exactly 20 orders of a fish dumpling. Anyone ever try this? The check says "Yu Ying Mandarin Garden."

                            The double skin and its presentation are as good as Great China. Still one of the best Chinese (Korean) dishes I've had.

                            The peking duck was $28 and you have to get the full order. It comes with a ton of pancakes, a mixed sauce (it didn't taste like straight hoisin), and scallions and cucumbers. They bring out the duck once it's cooked so you can see it, and then take it into the kitchen for carving. It's brought back with the skin separated from the meat, no head, and not an iota of visible fat. The skin was the best duck skin I've had since eating at Great China. The meat had a dark meat flavor, but I'm not sure I'd be be able to distinguish most pieces from dark meat turkey in a blind taste test. Still, once mixed with the other components in the wrappers, it's delicious. For dessert, they gave me two complementary honey glazed bananas.

                            This place definitely gets lots amidst all the mediocre restaurants that surround it. It's a shame--- when I worked in the area, I walked past it hundreds of times without stopping in. The staff are very friendly and indulged all my questions. They even pulled out some pictures of Chinese celebrities, including Jet Li, visiting there.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              Yum! I love that crab dish with the buns. Thanks for the tip!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Oops, looks like I linked their lunch menu above. For dinner: http://www.allmenus.com/ca/berkeley/5...

                                Note that the crispy skin duck they served in years past has been replaced with tea-smoked duck.

                                BTW, thanks to chocolatetartguy for his sleuthing!

                              2. re: hyperbowler

                                Do you have to preorder the peking duck?

                                1. re: wally

                                  Nope, you don't have to and it doesn't state anything about that on the menu. But I'd recommend it-- the meat was a little dry (not sitting out too long dry, but turkey dry), but still tasty once inside the buns. The fat layer was either carved or rendered out, but like I said, the skin was tops. Whether this was all because I was getting it at 9PM or what I don't know--- I've not had much success with roast duck past 8PM in the east bay.

                                2. re: hyperbowler

                                  "It's brought back with the skin separated from the meat, no head, and not an iota of visible fat."

                                  The meat's just sliced and put on the platter with the skin?

                                  Did they give you / offer the bone soup?

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Yup, it's served exactly the same way it was served to me at Great China last time I went--- they bring back a big plate of carved duck, all hidden underneath a veil of crispy skin pieces. I'd never been served it that way before going to Great China, so it stuck out in my mind.

                                    Yeah, that's funny-- it didn't occur to me until the drive home to ask for the discards for broth or nibbling. Did Great China give you the bone or prepared soup? Someone reported that South Sea Seafood Village gives you the soup. Is that common elsewhere?

                                    They also have smoked tea duck on the menu. I didn't like Great China's version, so I won't be trying that on my next visit.

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      some places that do multiple courses created from a peking duck state so on the menu, but many places that don't list it explicitly will do the soup on request (with a reasonable extra charge, often just $5-6)-- the added ingredients are all commonplace items. only one place we've tried in recent years would not make a soup, but were happy to reserve the carcass for us, and the soup made at home, because the components are so simple, was comparable to the restaurant preps. calling ahead to see if the duck requires an advance order of course is the time to also ask about a soup. in some ways the bones and meat/seasonings adhering to them have the most flavour of the duck.

                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                        I think pretty much anywhere that does Peking duck will make duck-bone soup if you ask for it. I haven't ordered Peking duck at Great China in years, prefer the tea-smoked.

                                        I've had three-way, where they bring you the skin, then a stir-fry with the meat, and at the end of the meal the soup.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Yes, I had the three-way a million years ago (i.e. more than 25) at King Tsin. I was told that was the proper/traditional way to serve Peking duck.

                                        2. re: hyperbowler

                                          Many of the Cantonese restaurants around here that serve Peking duck do not separate the meat from the bones. So it's not possible to have a three-course prep with soup as the third course.

                                      2. re: hyperbowler

                                        Cantonese restaurants will serve Peking duck with hoisin sauce, which is most of what's available around here. The traditional accompaniment is tian mian jiang, a sweet bean paste.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          It's been a few years since I tasted sweet bean paste straight, but that could very well have been it. I seem to remember there being a thin layer of oil or water on top of the sauce too (intentional or not, I don't know).

                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                            Well, there are many types of sweet bean paste. The sauce with Peking duck will be based on tianmian jiang but will have other proprietary things added, such as duck jus, and not just scooped out of a jar.

                                      3. Went for dinner the other night.

                                        double skin: needed extra hot mustard but then it was very similar to Great China's

                                        cold tofu roll with cucumber: simple and good

                                        pork and seafood dumplings: excellent, very similar to Great China's

                                        Szechuan eggplant with pork: good though barely spicy

                                        tea-smoked duck: not very smoky compared with Great China's, would not order again

                                        I'll have to go back at lunch sometime to try the special fish dumplings.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          They were shy on the mustard on my visit as well and even asked if I was okay with the amount they planned to put on.

                                        2. Driving by today noticed they now offer Sichuan dishes, not on regular menu, but server was very gracious and translated from the Chinese for me. I ordered fish in a spicy chilli oil, had numbing spice as well as chilli, cabbage slices and beansprouts, very delicious!

                                          I can't make an informed comparison with China Village but I was very satisfied, told them they need to have an English menu and the server said they haven't yet decided what to put on permanent menu...

                                          Was thinking this might be a good Chowdown site...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Armoise

                                            That's very interesting news. Sichuan cooking has become so widespread these days.

                                            If you're a member of the East Bay chowdown distribution list, you could send out an exploratory poll to see who might be interested in checking it out and what days are best.

                                          2. Went to Mandarin Garden last night for the first time. Pretty empty on a Sat. night (Cal on vacation, but yet and still).

                                            The service was first-rate--lovely woman who waited on us, gracious and attentive.

                                            Pork and seafood dumplings were very good--filling perhaps a tad lumpy, but otherwise delicious.

                                            They were out of yellow chives, so couldn't do shrimp w/ same. Ended up with garlic pea shoots with shrimp, which was pretty un-memorable.

                                            And the Peking duck was very good--duck moist, un-greasy, flavorful, skin beautifully done. Would have rated it excellent, but for the pancakes, which were cold and a bit glue-y.

                                            The bill was astonishingly cheap.

                                            We'll definitely be back to try other Great China faves!

                                            Between Mandarin Garden and Comal, dinner before Berkely Rep has gotten a lot more interesting!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: sundeck sue

                                              I was there Saturday night too, between 6 and 7. We saw them parade out one group's Peking duck before bringing it back to the kitchen for chopping, so it was probably your table!

                                              They're rolling out the English translation of the new Sichuan menu on Tuesday. There were about 25 items, and I had the server translate a few. Lots of Sichuan standards. I hope someone stops in an scans it in.

                                              We started with the small double skin, and requested extra spicy mustard. To taste, 1 1/2 little bowls of mustard was the right amount.

                                              We ordered the cumin lamb off the Sichuan menu. Excellent version. Fresh aromatic spices, not overly greasy, and it included fresh bamboo shoots, slices of leek greens(?), and strips, rather than squares, of bell pepper.

                                              We also got the fish in a spicy broth off the Sichuan menu. Also excellent. Not as much sichuan peppercorns as I like, but the broth picked up lots of flavor of the charred dried red peppers. The fish absorbed a lot of flavor and held together nicely, but wasn't as firm as a version I once had at China Village.

                                            2. Ordered the nomad-style lamb hot pot off the "Sichuan" menu, came out on a gas burner. Reminded me more of Korean junggol than any Chinese hot pot I've had. Lots of broth with chile oil on top, lamb, tree ears, nappa, mung bean noodles. Enough for a party of eight or ten to share, I have two quarts of leftovers in the fridge.

                                              I went there because I was craving dan dan noodles and Happy Golden Bowl is closed Tuesdays. They weren't on the menu that I could find but the waiter said they make them. There was a fair amount of broth topped with chile oil in the bowl, good flavor but not what I was expecting. Also, too similar to the hot pot.

                                              On the way out, the owner? manager? at the front desk was on the phone, speaking Japanese.

                                              1. According to a server, they have four chefs now. One a former chef at Great China, a new chef straight from Chengdu (in Sichuan Province), and two others.

                                                The crab meat with ginger served in buns, an item brought by the Great China chef, tasted good, had a nice texture, and had excellent buns, but the crab flavor was completely muted by the other ingredients. Disappointing for $16.

                                                I asked for a copy of the Sichuan menu before we were seated, so I don't know if they automatically give it to you. I snagged pics of it, see below photos.

                                                As per my DC's request, I didn't specifically request things spicy. Nonetheless, we enjoyed two items off the Sichuan menu: the pickled fish soup (酸菜鱼片湯 ) which tasted light and fresh and also includes glass noodles, and the twice cooked Chinese bacon. It included leeks, thin slices of bean curd, and fermented black beans. I'm not sure I prefer one version to the other, but the bacon here was more similar to standard American bacon in height and thickness than the version of this dish I've had at Happy Golden Bowl. MG's version also had fewer leeks but made up for it in bean curd. There's also a dish on their menu called "twice cooked pork with preserved vegetables."

                                                The server said that a customer recently requested a menu dish "Chengdu style," and was very pleased with the chef's ability to follow through. I think I might order that way as a rule from now on, but if anyone can elaborate on what that might mean for specific dishes, please chime in.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                                  My feeling after two visits is that Mandarin Garden is not in the same league with Great China or China Village, and I don't know the menu well enough to be sure of ordering well. The pork and seafood dumplings were the only dish I've had that I would order again.

                                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                                    I had the same reaction to the crab and egg white on bao. It was very mild. I took the leftovers home and added the crab to a Vietnamese cocoanut curry sauce and it was fine for that purpose.

                                                    As RL says definitely not in the same league as Great China or China Village, but I really like the chicken curry, green beans with pork and the chow mein. I order the chicken curry "Great China" style.

                                                    Signs in the window of China Village say that they are doing a complete remodel and hope to be open in February.

                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                      The crab meat with ginger served in buns was probably disappointing because Mandarin Garden seems to cut corners on proteins.

                                                      Definitely not in the same league as Great China.

                                                    2. Following the servers advice last time, I ordered everything "like the chef would make in Chengdu." Not sure if this made a difference since Ive not repeated dishes, but the heat level was slightly more than previously and there was a substantial increase in numbing spice.

                                                      The chicken wings with chile pepper, which I've had elsewhere as Chongqing style fried chicken, were pretty good. The chicken absorbed heat from the chiles, bit it didn't absorb as much fragrance as some of the places I've had the dish. The chicken wings were cleaved on the bias and cleanly, and the meat easily came off the bone.

                                                      The ma po tofu was better than I've had at non-Sichuan places. Very fragrant and filled with crushed and a few whole Sichuan peppercorns. Some fermented black beans too. I prefer the spicing and the more custardy tofu at Spices 3, but I would recommend Mandarin Garden's.

                                                      For the current Sichuan landscape in the East Bay, I'd put Happy Golden Bowl at the top. Spices III has very aggressive seasoning, and I like that a lot, but some of the preparations can be clumsy or inconsistent, definitely greasy. I've had lots of well prepared dishes at Mandarin Garden, but nothing has wowed me so far.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                                        Interesting about the ma po tofu. I ordered it from the lunch specials menu, and it was kind of bland, no peppercorns that I could detect. I'll try again with the special instructions.

                                                        HGB's version a few days later was excellent as always, lots of spice and intrigue.

                                                        1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                          Looking at an old menu, from before they got the new chef from Sichuan province, it looks like they've had a "ma po tofu" lunch special for some time.

                                                          From your description, it sounds like the typical stuff you'd get at a non-Sichuan place, which, tradition aside, is usually pretty boring stuff.

                                                          Here's a pictur if what I had. Not sure if the picture captures it, but The liquid was a beautiful dark red.

                                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                                            Yes, that's more like it.

                                                            Which leads me to a pet peeve about so many Chinese restaurants: the lunch menus so often are the mainstream, Americanized dishes like kung pao chicken, broccoli beef, etc. Only a few dishes representing the restaurant's specialties are there. China Village, on the other hand, had cumin lamb and spicy fish filets, and a separate lunch menu with ma po tofu, loofah and shrimp, seafood and tofu in clay pot, etc, but they're an exception (so is HGB; the tofu I had there was a lunch special). I'd love to see the Cantonese specials at L and L on their lunch menu.

                                                            1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                                              No sinister Oriental plot here. I am ABC, but can't read the "secret" menu either.

                                                              Confucius say because they are cooking in more than one style, you can ask for your dish to prepared in a specific style. I always ask for my chicken curry to be made Great China style and after reading about Hyperbowler's mapo tofu, I asked for it Sichaun style and got it as he described: slightly mouth numbing with black bean goodness and topped with sliced leeks. I had previously had the Cantonese "regular" style and it was not at all exciting. Do have to say that I still prefer Great China's prep: kind of smoky with black fungus.

                                                      2. This why I love Chowhound. After reading this thread I finally tried this place after walking past it for nearly 20 years!

                                                        We had the double skin with extra hot mustard - excellent, better than I remember at Great China; the stuffed eggplant - would have been awesome if the battered outside had been crunchy; chicken curry - asked for it spicy and it delivered- one of the two best renditions of this I have ever had; and the fish dumplings - not bad, but probably the only dish I wouldn't bother ordering again.

                                                        The service was great, although I believe the waitress may have been new since she couldn't tell me much about the stiffed eggplant. After the first two dishes were delivered she asked if we would like to wait on the other two. I do not think I have ever been asked that before in a Chinese resto.

                                                        I shall return!

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Civil Bear

                                                          That's too bad about the fish dumplings. Were they steamed, boiled, etc?

                                                          1. re: hyperbowler

                                                            I assumed they were steamed but not sure as they were all on a plate. They were not bad, just a bit bland compared to everything else. It was a big portion though...about 15.

                                                            1. re: hyperbowler

                                                              They are boiled, and a pale imitation of what you'd get at Great China! Boo-hoo....

                                                          2. Tried this place today for lunch. We were searching for Peking Duck as good as Great China. Unfortunately we are sorely disappointed. We had the following:

                                                            Smoked fish appetizer, a large plate, but the taste is kind of lacking.
                                                            Double Skin, a pale imitation of the same dish as Great China. The mustard lacks punch. The "skin" was thick.
                                                            Peking Duck, kind of looks like the ones from Great China, but the skin was nowhere near as crispy. The wrappers stuck together.
                                                            "Three fresh" dumplings. Again lacked taste.

                                                            Overall, the conclusion is, we are not coming back. So we walked by the supposed new site of Great China to see the progress. Well, sorry to report there isn't any. Does not look like Great China will be re-opening anytime soon.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. Yes, the chef from Great China is here but the relationship of the food at Mandarin Garden to that at Great China is only nostalgic.

                                                              I ran over on Sunday and was thrilled to find many of my favorites from Great China were on the menu. Very sad to say at Mandarin Garden, they're only an approximation.

                                                              For example, the fish dumplings. At Great China, they were sublime, accompanied by a perfectly balanced soy-ginger sauce. At Mandarin Garden, the wrapping was slightly thicker and doughy, the dumplings contained hardly any fish, and the sauce was crude.

                                                              Of the 15 dumplings in the order (same as at Great China), 14 were filled with mostly chopped chives. Only the last had an appreciable amount of fish in it.

                                                              The Mandarin Garden manager said the chef from Great China prepares the double-skin seafood dish (which we didn't order) but another of the 4 chefs prepares the fish dumplings. Clearly he does not have the hang of mixing the fish-chive filling or the sauce.

                                                              The food isn't bad, but it does not have the attention to detail it had at Great China. Quality control is absent. The former Great China chef must have been supported by a crack kitchen staff who knew how to make everything perfectly. Not so at Mandarin Garden.

                                                              Also, there are unappetizing signs of stinginess at Mandarin Garden: The lack of fish in the fish dumplings, the lack of pork in the mu-shu pork, the skimpy 2-person waitstaff barely being able to handle the Sunday lunch crowd, the shabbiness of the decor (and I don't require any kind of ambience in a Chinese restaurant).

                                                              You see this kind of shoot-yourself-in-the-foot stinginess in restaurants that are on the bubble. With the buzz about the Great China chef, Mandarin Garden's business is up, why signal this disregard for customers?

                                                              I'm so disappointed. I so miss Great China. The opening of the new location has been postponed and postponed, it seems unlikely to me it will ever open again or with the same great food.

                                                              5 Replies
                                                              1. re: Crabpaws

                                                                Great China's chef is the owner and the dumplings were the best when he made them himself.

                                                                The opening of the new location hasn't been postponed so much as they were overly optimistic about how long it would take for them to get permits. They're finally starting construction.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Thanks for the info. So the former Great China chef now at the Mandarin Garden was trained by the owner of Great China?

                                                                  I'm worried about the new place. It looks far too grand. Now it's supposed to open this spring.

                                                                  1. re: Crabpaws

                                                                    I guess one of Great China's former line cooks is working at Mandarin Garden?

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Must be, he's only one of four chefs at Mandarin Garden, not the head chef.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        This is like one of Calvin Trillin's articles, the one where he's following the great Chinese chef all over the South.

                                                                2. We ate there last night before Berkeley Rep.

                                                                  The Peking Duck was better than I remember--which is to say, delicious (perfect skin, moist meat).

                                                                  And the service was terrific (attentive, professional--got us out in the time we had said we needed to be out).

                                                                  Realize everyone's waiting for Great China to re-open. But we made a mental note not to forget about this place.

                                                                  1. We have been coming here regularly since China Village closed. It has been very good. Recently there has been a change of ownership and perhaps a change of chefs.

                                                                    They have a list of new dishes on the front whiteboard, mostly in Chinese. The waiter was kind enough to translate them for me. From that list we chose these:
                                                                    Lion's Head Meatballs -- two large tender meatballs in a very rich broth, delicious
                                                                    Chive pancake -- a bit greasy for my taste
                                                                    Lamb Skewers -- very tender and flavorful, not dried out like some I've had.
                                                                    Some of the other dishes sounded like good items to try next time.

                                                                    We had our usual favorites: Tea-smoked duck, pea leaves with garlic, dry-fried string-beans, Szechuan fish fillet.

                                                                    They have brown rice, and the corkage fee is minimal. Six of us ate very well for $17 each including a generous tip.

                                                                    When Cal is in session they get very busy -- only a block from campus, they are often inundated with young Chinese students. So it can be noisy and service slow. But at this time of year (winter break) it was not too busy.

                                                                    They have a number of "clay-pot" dishes which are large stoneware pots over a butane flame. We had the "nomad" lamb pot on an earlier visit and it was delicious.

                                                                    The new owner is a woman from Beijing; her daughter is a hostess/waiter and is very sweet and accommodating.

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Joel

                                                                      Ten of us had a wonderful New Year's Eve dinner here. The place was less than half full, perhaps because UC is not in session, perhaps because Great China has reopened six blocks away. We had excellent service -- also they know us since we have been several times in the past month.

                                                                      We ordered Peking Duck, Double Skin, pea leaves, green beans, calamari in black bean sauce, boiled fish filet with chili pepper soup ("white style") and lamb hot pot "nomad style." Everything was delicious -- I ordered in stages so they did not bring everything at once, and we dined for more than three hours.

                                                                      From the "new items menu", listed on a poster at the register, and kindly translated by the waiter, we ordered wonton in chili oil. I asked for two orders; the first one came out right away, the second order took some time and was much better -- I think they made the second batch specially for us. We also ordered a dish unfamiliar to me: Salt and pepper pork shoulder. It was presented as a whole pork shoulder, then brought back to the kitchen to be cut up. The meat was cured --tasted and looked like good ham. It had a crispy exterior; they deep fry the whole pork shoulder after it is first braised. Unlike the versions I've had at China Village and Ancient Szechuan, there was no accompanying sauce. The meat was served on a bed of greens -- but the most unusual greens I've ever had in a Chinese place. It looked like shredded kale, but I was assured it was shredded gai lan (Chinese broccoli), fried crispy, bright green, and seasoned with a lot of sugar. The pork was delicious but the greens were too sweet.

                                                                      They gave us a complimentary dessert of fried bananas. They did a good job -- deep frying the banana chunks, putting them in syrup, then in ice water to harden the syrup and give a crunchy coating.

                                                                      The bill was only $174 before tip!
                                                                      We drank one bottle of wine and two magnums, and I don't think we were charged a corkage fee (though I was bit hazy towards the end).

                                                                      1. re: Joel

                                                                        Wondering how close the fried pork shoulder is to these examples at other restaurants. I've had it at Asian Pearl in Millbrae and Fremont for a Chinese New Year celebration, called Macau crispy ham hock, and it has a pink, cured appearance and flavor.

                                                                        R & G Lounge in SF also does a version for Chinese New Year, not pink/cured tasting.

                                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                          Good detective work.


                                                                          I think the "salt and pepper" pork shoulder was the same as the "Macau crispy ham hock" -- when they returned the dish to the table they included the naked bone. I would have liked a sweet vinegar sauce rather than the oddly sweet greens.

                                                                          1. re: Joel

                                                                            Maybe they were trying to give you a Chinese rendition of ham hock and greens for new year's? ;)

                                                                            Actually, as noted above, this is one of the symbolic foods for Chinese New Year too. I'm happy to know that I can find it somewhere else as it has been a must-order when available at the other three spots. Would be good to find out if it will be a regular part of the menu or just a seasonal offering.