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Sep 7, 2012 03:14 AM

Wow! Our First Excellent Lunch Buffet!: Mandarin in Reading, just off 128

For awhile now, Ferrari328 has been CH posting some serious lunch hounding in the area north of boston.. He briefly mentioned Mandarin Reading in a recent post and today we went to try it, just off 128 and across from REI (about 10 min. from the 93/128 intersection.)

What a huge surprise. The lunch buffet is 11-2 wkdays for $12 and they are friendly and accomodating with late visitors. We arrived at 1:30 and none of the items were sold out and none had been suffering too long under heat lamps. They all tasted fresh and crunchy, not too sweet or salty, and no MSG that I could discern. Chefs come from Fuju and Hong Kong.

Excellent apps:

Tempura- really good and fresh and crispy. Not a proper light/shattering panko crust but still excallent,but still- fried nicely, and crisp. Many different vegetables incl. kabocha squash ; v good tempura dipping sauce

Crab Rangoon- excellent flavor, good amount of filling; fry oil clean

Peking Ravioli - larger than other commercial ones w/ a lot more filling of flavorful

march chopped pork; seemed house made to me. Steamed and fried, w/ good brown crust.

Pork and Shrimp Shumai- excellent filling

Section of 8 or so different dipping sauces including a 'ginger sauce' which seemed to be soy, vinegar, ginger (excellent w/ the ravs.)

Really Good:

Beef with Leeks- good quality tender beef, well balanced flavors

General Gau's- not cloyingly sweet

Baby Bok Choy- so tender and crisp

Not good:

lo mein -good flavor but overcooked

hot and sour soup- major yeccch

teriyaki chicken skewers- tough/dry, sweet

many diff maki- very pretty and varied, but not much flavor ,and rice not right at all

-there were probably 4 apps and 6-8 entrees that I did not have.

- I would never have tried the ice cream because I am such an ice cream snob (Toscanini's , Mixx, JPLicks and Haagen dasz(sp) for me)but it was brought to us- coconut, and chocolate -and I am really curious what brand it is because it was very good,the choc, esp, because it had a deep flavor and wasn't too sweet.

The octagonal room was very attractive and colorful and light filled. Plenty of helpful staff around.

I'm curious what CHs think about buffet tips- 20% of $24 (2 of us)just seemed too little.

Anyway, after the pretty dreadful dreck last week at Tulip jn Stoneham, Mandarin was 1,000 times better and we plan to return often. We overheard another couple tell the waitress that they heard about it on TV Diner. Btw, there are 3 other suburban Mandarin locations and they also own Bamboo, w/ 3 locations.

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  1. My daughter really loves the Mandarin Reading buffet so we've gone a lot. She's particularly a fan of their egg drop soup, peking ravioli, shu mai, lo mein and mixed sauteed vegetables but she's 6, so take her recommendations for what they're worth :)

    I like the little bowls of kimchi, the whole shrimp dry fried with celery, the sushi (they only put out a few pieces so you have to get it just as it goes out), and occasionally they have braised greens in oyster sauce. When I'm feeling indulgent I'll get the General Gau's, crab rangoon. I actually like their hot and sour soup.

    They have never brought me ice cream, but it's always on the buffet and I do like their green tea ice cream very much. They always offer two flavors and one is usually a conventional flavor like vanilla or chocolate and one is more interesting like green tea, coconut or red bean.

    I've gotten mired into too many buffet tipping discussions on the Not About Food board but I will say that the service at Mandarin Reading is a step higher than typical buffet service. They are prompt with drinks and soup and quickly remove dirty plates, and are always friendly and pleasant, and I try to compensate accordingly.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chris VR

      Hi OC, Meletharb is from Barthlelomew.. Bart was actually a nice man, not a whacko, passed away recently but lived in our building and used to make ice cream parties for the kids in the building periodically. His son now runs it.. Mandarin Reading used to be our hang out for yrs but when the wonderful woman who ran it left, we found it hit and miss after that, but maybe we will give it a new try.. Our new Chinese spot for quite a while has now been Bamboo Garden in Wakefield but no one here hardly goes cuz it is the most unsexy place around, but its a small family run place with the freshest most consistent (one guy doing the cooking forever) Chinese we have found.. And the cheapest restaurant you will ever find, ever.. Nothing fancy at all but nearly always good. Our standbys Giant thick egg fu yungs with a non MSG peanutty gravy, not the shiny gloppy stuff that's at Man.Reading and everywhere else, and salmon with rice and veggies. typically summer squash, zucchini, broc, bok, onion, carrots, button shrooms. baby corrn, in a not too starchy mildly garlic/sesame oil flavored white sauce on a giant platter with rice (which unfortunately is not jasmine anymore, but they do have brown and the white is ok for white) for 7 bucks at dinner, less at lunch and add a buck for each app with it. Crab rangoons very good. You can sub lo mein for a buck for rice. The shrimp that is battered, kind of like a general gau sauce, is huge and tender. The salmon is adequate for the price, not gourmet but suits us okay.. Chow foon is tender too and not all stuck together like a lot of others. I do find Mand Reading a good place to bring out of town company for a leisurely lunch and they are usually very happy with it. BTW, OC, love your presence on this board but judging by the clear and literal style of your name here, I am guessing that you won't be content until Meletharb changes their name to "The Nice Homemade Ice Cream Shop in Wakefield" ! I just cant fathom how you tolerate "Haagen Dazs", a fake danish name from New Jersey that you cant even spell:) and while 'Toscanini" makes great ice cream, it doesn't make me think icecream any more than Meletharb..

      1. re: chompie

        Def must try that ice cream; thx.

        The Bamboo Garden- they don't have a buffet, right? those are ala carte dishes you like? i really love a good chow fun. I think Beef and Broccoli chow fun might have been the first dish I ever had in Chinatown (at Bo Shek back in 1971!)

        1. re: opinionatedchef

          OC, yes, it is not a buffet. Its funny, when I first saw "good chow fun" , I thought, 'isn't that what we have here on CH? then I realized it was fun, as in BTW, I meant to write Bamboo House, not Bamboo Garden.. Its the one in the plaza with Morena off North Ave. Just realize, if you go it is not anything like Phuket, not creative or decored, just plain ol cheap, fresh well cooked and plated standard Amer. Chinese run by a family.

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              we ended up at ManDan for dinner tonite, no buffet and just had a couple of basics but the flavors were pretty much very good. I just had 3 little peeves...our maki roll was served on a very hot plate.. Has anyone ever had sushi served on a hot plate?? I could smell it 'cooking' as it was delivered, and the lo mein had a lot of Chinese celery in it, which I have never eaten in all my years of eating and did not like.. too strong a flavor for standard shrimp lo mein.. and the light overhead was broken and flashed every 4 seconds.. other than that it was good..

        2. re: chompie

          You can't go to Bamboo House without getting the Chao Shou Wonton which is their version of Suan La Chow Show. Not as good as Mary Chung's, but their homemade dumplings in the dish are really good (if you go in the afternoon you can see them sitting at the tables making dumplings), the sauce is just not as spicy as MC's, more on the sweeter side.

      2. Next time you are in the Wakefield area, you should try Meletharb's Ice Cream. It's a hidden gem with delicious ice cream. There hot fudge is also excellent. Some of my favorite ice cream flavors include coconut almond chip, coffee caramel cup, sweet cream and strawberry. The white pistachio varies between amazing and fine.

        7 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          Try the baklava ice cream is amazing !!

          1. re: tlpzza

            Yes! Never had a bad flavor at Meletharb but the baklava is particularly great.

          2. re: beetlebug

            well bb, if that name isn't the most unusual i will EVER see, in my life, with the words Ice Cream after it..... Who knew?

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Meletharb's has been an institution for many years; surprised some people think of it as a hidden gem or don't know it!

              1. re: Karl S

                I've gone to Meletharb's for years. I think of it as a hidden gem because most people, outside of Wakefield residents haven't heard of it. Plus, I've always found it to be an odd location.

            2. re: beetlebug

              try the molasses gingersnap; and they make real whipped cream for sundaes

              1. re: beetlebug

                Hey, beetle, I'm a Meletharb fan as well. I was anxious to try the hot fudge, but when I asked the counter girl if it was made in-house, she said no. I had visions of generic Friendly's-type sauce. It's good to hear that it is tasty. Maybe I'll brave it next time.

              2. I am always perplexed when it comes time to pay the bill and add tip at a buffet. If the service is attentive I tend to tip 15% at buffets. If the server goes out of his or her way or my kids make a mess (I will do my best to clean on my own first) I will sometimes do 20%. opinionatedchef, are you saying the restaurant added in 20%?

                7 Replies
                1. re: Gordough

                  nonono. WE want to do at least 20% but it seems too little. i mean, surely those waitpeople make close to nothing.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Fair enough but what are you paying for if all you do is tell the server you are having the buffet and you drink water? I understand there is some work involved in clearing plates and filling water glasses but is 15% really not enough absent some sort of outstanding above and beyond service? To each his own but I certainly think a $5 tip for a $24 lunch meal where you get your own food is more than sufficient.

                  2. re: Gordough

                    The US customary standard tip for buffet service is 10%; hasn't changed. You are free to tip more if you wish or if you made a lot of work for the servers.

                    1. re: Karl S

                      But in buffet places, don't the tips get shared by servers and cooks, as in many non-buffet places? I ask this completely naively...We almost always leave 20% no matter even if service hasn't been great, because why should the kitchen suffer for something out of their control?

                      1. re: digga

                        The general rule comes from the idea that they are not normally doing the same level of service as full-service. In any event, the US customary baseline for buffet tipping is still 10%, and you are free to leave as much more as you wish, which will primarily compensate for the many people who leave no tip for buffet service.

                        1. re: digga

                          digga, that's so interesting- i've so often thought the opposite- what if our food took forever to arrive because of the kitchen and not the server? (re: should i tip less or not)
                          funny, eh?!

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            No, not so funny when anything less than 20% on a $24 bill is less than $5. People are dependent on tips. Judging from the frequency with which you and your beloved eat out, I have a feeling that won't make or break you. But it might the person who is cooking/serving your food.

                    2. Thanks OC. I have been looking for some good Chinese buffet places. Some place that is not greasy.

                      1. I find it to be just "ok" americanized chinese.. The best lunch buffet i have had in this area is on Sunday only at the Lotus Flower in Framingham. It is a dimsum/regular buffet and is very good.