Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Mandarin Noodle Deli - Temple City, CA

Certain friends have been ranting and raving about Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City for quite a while now. Temple City is a bit far out there, but today I made the drive out to join the throngs of people, all Chinese, waiting for a table. The smart regulars would order their food before they got a table so that food was ready and coming out as they sat down. We were seated after a short wait, but the three waitresses managing the room were too busy to get to our order immediately and we waited some ten minutes (which in high-turnover Chinese restaurants, is an exceedingly long time).

The three of us ordered five dishes. Be prepared to tell the waitress, “No,” because she will be recommending dishes to you even after you’ve ordered more than enough to have to ask for a doggie bag. I saw several tables order their fair share of food and yet the waitresses would still recommend dishes. Every table was taking some food home. On a surprisingly good note, the dishes and utensils were impeccably clean, a seemingly rarity in high-turnover Chinese restaurants. For a refreshing drink, try their strawberry juice instead of ordering the traditional tea.

Although we’ve been told their dumplings are quite good, we decided to skip an order of dumplings to try their thin onion pancake ($2.90) and their sliced beef with pancake ($5.99), both of which we’ve heard fabulous things about. Their thin onion pancake was ok; I’ve had better. Personally, I like them a little bit greasier, not as fried, and with more scallions. Their sliced beef with pancake was essentially rolls of fried pancake stuffed with sliced beef and scallion. I’ve heard a lot about this dish and thought it was very well made. Perhaps the beef could have used a little bit more seasoning, but I was not disappointed and would recommend the dish.

Cold Spicy Beef Tendon ($5.45) is a popular dish in many restaurants and one of my favorites. We were sorely disappointed with this dish here. The beef tendons were of good quality, but they did a horrible job of slicing and presenting them appropriately. On top of that, this dish, when properly made, is supposed to be numbingly hot. However, the dish was neither numbing, nor hot. I do not recommend the dish.

As we waited for our order to be taken, we noticed that nearly every table was ordering a chicken dish. Whether this was because the dish was good or because the waitresses just kept recommending it, I don’t know, but we decided to try it. The Sun Tung Chicken Salad ($7.50) really was nothing more than shredded chicken (some with skin on still, but those are the tasty pieces) atop a bed of cucumber chunks. It was then covered with a light sauce which appeared to be a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and chicken stock. I personally liked this dish quite a bit and while it was good, my lunch companions didn’t think it was as amazing as our waitress described it as. I get the feeling that the waitresses would have been the type to say, “Oh, everything’s good here.”

That would have been enough to fill our stomachs, but the waitress suggested we get a noodle soup, so we easily succumbed. We had ordered the Beef Tendon Noodle Soup ($5.55) but the waitress recommended that we get the Beef Stew/Tendon Noodle Soup ($5.95) instead, so we did. The dish was good and jam packed with a lot of noodles, even if the beef itself was somewhat lacking. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but the broth was tasty, the noodles cooked just right and the beef very tender. I would recommend this dish over any of the other dishes I tried, and may very well go back to try some of their other noodle dishes because of it.

Bargain Chinese eats are a favorite of mine, especially when you can order a whole bunch of little items to try. At $12/person with tip, this restaurant is certainly higher than many other restaurants in the area, but I thought the value was there. And apparently others did too because as we left, there was still a line of people waiting to get in.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

En Japanese Brasserie
Chefs: Koji Nakano and Yasuhiro Honma
Location: Manhattan, New York City
Featuring: The En Signature Menu - "A complete menu highlighting our favorite dishes"

The adventurous may want to try a meal at this unorthodox homey izakaya restauant located in busy Manhattan, New York City. The En Signature Menu is only $100 for two people, a bargain considering the number of courses they provide. The atmosphere is comfortable for discussion and the dishes will certainly inspire commentary. En Japanese Brasserie prides itself on freshly-made tofu which is availably nightly at 6:00, 7:30, 9:00, 10:30 and 11:30pm. And of course it was the first dish served.

Freshly-made scooped tofu (served warm or chilled with wari-joyu). Ours was warm but came on a bed of ice (with other appetizers) so what was originally supposed to be warm or chilled was just neither. It was good tofu, but for a dish that a restaurant built a reputation around, it was extremely disappointing.

Fresh Yuba Sashima. It was tasty, but I'm a big fan of yuba. My dinner companion, a recruit, was not a fan of this dish. Perhaps she didn't like the texture inherent in yuba or didn't like the creaminess of the dish.

Vegetarian Sashimi (konnyaku with white miso-vinegar sauce). Pretty interesting dish that seemed like a gelatinous sashimi slice. I can't say that I liked it. Just imagine some cold, tasteless, gelatin slab against your tongue.

Beef Tataki (lightly seared filet mignon). This was pretty good, a testament to what the restaurant can do with simple dishes.

Nigiri Sushi Sampler. This was one of the best courses. The fish was fresh and the serving size just right.

Seared Chu-Toro (marbled tuna belly in garlic soy). This was delicious, perhaps their best dish. I could have easily eaten more. It was seared perfectly and the garlic soy gave it an extra little kick.

Ebi Shinjo (shrimp fritters deep fried with salt). Not a very memorable dish. In fact, I can't remember anything other than popping them in my mouth.

Hamo Kara-Age (deep fried pike eel). This was served along with the Ebi Shinjo. It was equally memorable.

En Original Tsukune Chicken Sausage (and poached egg). I liked this dish. My dinner companion didn't care too much for it and was a bit turned off by biting into some crunchy parts (my guess is chicken cartiledge, which supposedly has good medicinal values for those arthritically prone).

Nama-Fu (broiled wheat cakes with miso paste). Another dish that just didn't quite measure up. It wasn't very interesting at all and of course my dinner companion disliked it.

Saikyo Miso Grilled Black Cod. Everyone and their mother is now preparing black cod with a miso glaze. The dish is just overdone. But, it tastes good and En Japanese Brasserie gets this dish done just right. The miso glaze flavor tempts the palate and the black cod just almost melts away. This was very well done.

Kakuni (Berkshire pork belly braised in sansho miso). Prepare for a bit of fat when you eat this, but don't worry, it's part of the dish so none of you spit out the fat, please. I felt that they needed to strengthen the flavor a little bit although they really couldn't braise it any longer as the meat was already about to fall apart.

En Garlic Shiso Fried Rice. Ok, this was a disappointing dish. When I order a signature menu featuring their favorite dishes, I'm expecting more from the rice department than fried rice and garlic. Other than that, it was fairly good.

I might have missed a couple dishes, but that was a pretty complete summary of the dishes we were served. We also ordered the Spicy Chu-Toro Scallion Roll (marbled tuna belly mixed with okra). I honestly didn't realize there was okra in it until now as I type this up, but the roll was ok. It was tasty, but they wasted good chu-toro on a spicy scallion roll. The chu-toro that went in the rolls was not of the same quality as the chu-toro served earlier. I supposed they have to do something with the odd ends and bits.

For dessert, the En Signature Menu provided a tofu souffle which was not well received by us. I ate it anyway being the pig that I am, but it really wasn't delicious in the slightest bit. Not being satisfied, we ordered the pudding trio (yuzu, red bean and green tea) and we ended up leaving that pretty much untouched.

The service is ok, the presentation of the dishes were spectacular, but the food was essentially hit or miss. A couple of the dishes knocked it out of the ballpark, but a good number of them also left me wanting to chug a coke. Nevertheless, this restaurant has a place in Manhattan. If you're going for that one dish there you like, by all means, go. Heck, go everyday! If you're going to take clients out on a budget and want to impress with something interesting, this is a fabulous deal. If you're one of those people that will give anything a try, well, this is a great place too! But, if you're not looking for an adventure and unwilling to risk distasteful food, maybe you ought to stick to another place you're more familiar with or check out a place like Blue Ribbon Sushi.