Monday, January 24, 2011

Mandarin Kitchen

After posting on my hot pot experience at Lao Sze Schuan, some of my friends in class wanted to take me to one of their favorite spots in China Town. We'd been planning this food outing for quite some time, but because of random constraints, me getting sick, and the busy med school schedule, we didn't get around to it until a week ago. Finally, Alex, Ran, some of Ran's undergrad friends, and I got to have an all you can eat extravaganza at Mandarin Kitchen (no website, 2143 South Archer Avenue).

Logistics
When most people hear "all you can eat Chinese food," I assume they think of monstrous buffets where the food has been left out for days and layers of butter have been continually spread over the top to keep a fresh looking "glean" to the food. This is totally not the case at Mandarin Kitchen. It's right next door to Phoenix and basically has 15 or so round tables meant for parties to share hot pots. Just to give you a basic refresher course, a hot pot is like Chinese fondue but with an oily soup broth served over a burner.


They give you a gigantic menu where you can check off every ingredient you might like to cook in the soup from lamb meat to cilantro to beef tongue. You can also get a bunch of dim sum style dishes. Then in a show of masterful physical strength, the waitresses will carry all 20 plates of food or so to you in one trip. The service is pretty good, although I think they won't bring everything you order if it looks like you're not going to finish the food you already have (probably a good call). Also it's a huge help if you have someone that speaks Chinese (like 3 of my dining companions).


The deal is solid at $16.99 for everything. It's pretty funny though that the sign that has the price clearly has a 5 that was painted over to look like a 6 (so I guess you better get in there before the 6 gets changed to a 7). You can't really leave without getting your money's worth.

The Food
First of all, we got the hot pot split in two with one side spicy and the other side normal. The spicy soup was way spicier than the one at Lao Sze Schuan, and I actually found it a bit overwhelming at times (depending on how much soup a certain ingredient soaked up). It's not really worthwhile for me to talk about every ingredient, but I really loved the homemade noodles, fish balls, lamb, cilantro, sprouts, and winter melon. As far as the dim sum went, they had a delicious fried bread dish, but I didn't really care for the Chive pancake which was far too heavy on the chives for me (Alex and Ran really loved this dish though, maybe it's an acquired taste). I was also really excited that they had Soup Dumplings which are basically made by flash freezing soup into balls and then steaming those balls in dumpling wrappers. Then you bite off the top and drink the soup. These one's were just alright, but maybe that's because I was a bit overwhelmed by soup since that was the main course.

The Hot Pot

The First Smorgasbord of Food

 The Soup Dumplings

Overall
The food was delicious and never stopped coming at Mandarin Kitchen. At the same time, although hot pot is a ton of fun, I'm not sure it puts out the highest flavoring in food. Comparing it to Lao Sze Schuan's hot pot, I think Mandarin Kitchen was better. It was cheaper, you got more food, and you could also get side dim sum dishes. At the same time, as an overall restaurant I think Lao Sze Schuan gets the edge for their non hot pot dishes. I'm giving Mandarin Kitchen 3 out of 5 Pearls. I'd also like to extend a special thanks to Alex Sheu for his excellent photography for this post.


I'd also like to throw out one more thanks to everyone who came out to the Kenmore Live Studio last Thursday. It was great having you all out there to show your support.


Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

2 comments:

  1. Excellent writing and photography. After reading, i'm extra sad that I missed this!

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  2. Thanks for the post. Been wanting to try MK for a while for their hot pot.

    One thing though (not trying to be a dick). Soup dumplings are actually made with a very gelatinous stock. They basically simmer tougher cuts of pork until the connective tissue dissolves gives the soup base a ton of body. Once it cools in gelatinizes, they dice it up and mix it with the ground pork. Once steamed the gelatin "melts" and you have soup! Pretty fun.

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