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Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant: A GNR in San Francisco

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant: A GNR in San Francisco
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  • Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant: A GNR in San Francisco

    Post #1 - January 21st, 2011, 11:26 pm
    Post #1 - January 21st, 2011, 11:26 pm Post #1 - January 21st, 2011, 11:26 pm
    San Francisco Great Neighborhood Restaurant – Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant

    Some restaurants call out to chowhounds, whispering that here is something out of the ordinary. Part of the appeal, of course, is the food, and part of the appeal is the idea of the restaurant. It stands apart from the run of the mill. A restaurant might serve an exemplary General Tso’s Chicken, but how much respect would that chef receive? It is culinary edgework that matters. Islamic Chinese food, now that is something to write home about.

    One of the San Francisco restaurants, off the beaten track (near the Zoo in the southwest corner of the city), that has received attention from foodistas is the Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant, a restaurant that is willing to embrace spice, even when serving those of pale complexion. One gets the idea from one of the chef’s specials: “Extremely hot pepper.” We didn’t try it, but I understand that unlike some of the restaurant’s labels this is perfectly descriptive.

    China has a considerable Islamic population, not only in the western areas of the nation. At these restaurants, lamb (and beef and tofu) take the place of pork. The restaurant offers some “typical” dishes: sweet and sour shrimp, kung pao chicken, mu shu beef, won ton soup, but other dishes that I have not seen: egg surfaced lamb, shredded belly with parsley (tripe), lamb eggs (rocky mountain oysters, perhaps), and crispy cake with cream. There is much still to explore.

    We ordered more than we should, but not more than we enjoyed. We started with fried lamb skewers – lamb (slightly too done) with hot pepper powder. We followed that with boiled and fried chicken de zhou style. It didn’t seem fried to me, but it was incredibly tender and flavorful with the pungency of soy sauce and other savory spices. I searched for a description on the web, but the images didn’t seem to be for the same dish (it is supposed to be Lu cuisine from the Shandong area, but I doubt if it is the same dish). But it was a tasty cold dish.

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco - Fried Lamb Skewer by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco Boiled and Fried Chicken De Zhou Style by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    We followed this with Sour Green Sliced Fish in Warm Pot, which was a white fish served with a Chinese cabbage soup, slightly sour (served with a lot of tofu). I can’t eat tofu, but I found the soup itself quite luxurious – certainly the most subtle cabbage soup in my memory. It was one of my favorite dishes of the afternoon. The dish was not at all spicy, but very flavorful.

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco - Sour Green Sliced Fish in Warm Pot by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Peking (not Beijing) Beef Pancake was a very pleasant, crisp pastry with beef stuffing. It was enjoyable, although not so surprising. It receives high praise from other diners, and deserves praise, even if it is not challenging.

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco - Peking Beef Pancake by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Next arrived sautéed string beans with enough pepper to make it lively (and fried tofu).

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco - Sauteed String Beans with Tofu by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Perhaps the most striking dish of the meal was Sauteed Lamb with Water. What a name! It wasn’t a soup, but lamb with green onions (presumably boiled and sautéed). Again this was not a spicy dish, but was beautifully tender morsels of lamb, a presentation that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Image
    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant - San Francisco - Sauteed Lamb with Water by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Service was congenial, and the restaurant, not stylish, was clean and airy.

    The idea of finding an excellent Islamic Chinese restaurant in a surprising corner of San Francisco was so delightful that I plan to nominate Old Mandarin for a GNR whenever LTH colonizes the Bay Area.

    Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
    3132 Vicente Street (between 42nd and 43rd Avenue)
    San Francisco
    415-564-3481
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik

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