Stepping Out: Mandarin House

Andong Cheng | Scene Reporter

1820 Market Street,
St. Louis, MO 63103
(314) 621-6888

Rating: 4/5

I don’t know how many students on campus have heard of Mandarin House, but Restaurant News certainly has: The Web site rated it as one of the Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the U.S. in 2009. In fact, this is where the Taiwanese Student Organization (TSO) organizes their annual 10/10 dinner, so it should be familiar to at least a small group of students.

Mandarin House is a well-respected Chinese restaurant in St. Louis. I personally have a weak spot for atmosphere when I rate dining locations, and Mandarin House’s uniquely elegant space and cultural design is unprecedented for an Asian restaurant. As I walked inside the front doors, which were guarded by marble lions, I saw a bright red bridge over a small stream. A scarlet Chinese pavilion with a jade-green roof was located on the other side, surrounded by real trees and short rock gates.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly haven’t been to any restaurants that contain a mini Chinese summer palace inside. The dining area is very spacious and often used for banquets.

I ate in a party of five, and we chose to follow the “potluck” tradition of dining. In Chinese culture, one does not order a dish individually; instead, every member of the round table shares portions of five different dishes so people can taste more variety in one visit.

I was pleasantly surprised when I realized Mandarin House has a wide selection of dishes from different parts of China. The range included Mongolian Beef, Peking Duck, Szechuan Styled Fish Fillets (too spicy for me) and other authentic dishes that rarely appear simultaneously on menus in the U.S. Of course, all the American favorites such as General Tso’s Chicken, Potstickers, Lo Mein, Hot & Sour Soup, etc. were available as well. Most dishes were $8 to 13 in price, and appetizers ranged from $4 to $7.

The five dishes we ordered all had distinct individual flavors. The first one was Mandarin Beef, which had very tender pieces of marinated beef tossed in a sweet brown sauce. This dish had a very mild, classic taste; in my opinion, it is suitable for anyone.

Then came the Twice Cooked Pork, the authentic Szechuan dish. This spicy meat is cooked by placing sizzling chunks of pork meat which contain a lot of fat into the pan after being cooked once already. The dish is only ready after the pork is cooked the second time, and we only eat the remaining soft tissue, removed of fat. The dish was a bit on the salty side, and tasted oddly like buffalo chicken wings.

The next dish was Chicken with Bamboo, a delightful chicken dish with hints of bamboo taste in the meat. The actual bamboo shoots mixed into the dish were crunchy and fresh.

For vegetable lovers, I highly recommend the Firecracker String Beans, a flavorful dish that will surely satisfy. The string beans are stir-fried in a sticky soy sauce and can come with or without small amounts of minced pork. The texture of the string beans is crisp and much more savory than the vegetable stir-fry on campus.

The last dish my group ordered was Braised Eggplants, which came in a large bowl (a good deal). All of my friends claimed that it was the most amazing eggplant they had ever tried. Now, a personal quirk of mine is that I never eat eggplant (or mushrooms), so we will all just have to trust in my party’s words.

Just as I was about to end my immensely enjoyable visit, Mandarin House’s manager, Lei Jin, came up to our table and enthusiastically told us that there is a 10 percent non-expiring discount for students and professors. Just show the front desk your student ID, and they will deduct 10 percent from your bill. This includes dinners, lunches and dim sum on weekends and holidays. She encourages visitors to order the dim sum because the specialty dim sum chef is from San Francisco and cooks up quite an authentic array of dumplings. She also informed me of Mandarin House’s completely free karaoke services. Mandarin House has a great karaoke system that plays songs in English, Chinese and Taiwanese.