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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Life and eating is an adventure: We try Mandaranism, Overland Park , KS

Mandarinism on UrbanspoonFor me life is an adventure. As a world traveler, eclipse chaser, stormchaser, tennis pro, a teacher who has traveled into the crater of Mt. St. Helens and more, I like an adventure and have always liked exploring. Food for me, is another adventure and way to explore. Unlike my wife, I seek every meal to be an adventure whether I am creating a recipe, eating in a restaurant or tasting or eating. I am always looking for something new, a different spice , a new taste, a new combination, different ingredients, a different restaurant, different, different, different. Somethings are the same whilc something are the same but "different".

While we will journey to China (our first time) in July 2009 for the eclipse and will experience much more in Beijing and Shanghai and around in the ways of foods and culture , I am not waiting to find evenmore aboutt classical and different Chinese and Asian fare. I keep exploring with recipes but I find to find and try new restaurants now. One new place that I have wanted to try since I heard about is one of the new places in Kansas City called Mandaranism. A local newspaper and local buzz says this place is "hot" and does a whole new spin on Chinese and Mandarin food.

I really love Thai and Asian food and also like Chinese. However there are too many mediocre Chinese places that are frankly not worth it except " to stuff you face (so to speak)". But when I needed to pick a place to meet my former business partner and his wife for a final get together before they leave for good (to Tucson), I wanted to choose some place that they would impress them. His wife worked at The American and they both have eaten at some of the best places in Lawrence and around Kansas City and the US. I thought they would like this place and we would have a nice time and we would all explore a new restaurant. And I did pick a good place for all of us.

Those who want Chinese can go to a mega buffet with lots of people, moderate to higher amounts of noise, and dozens of entrees to choose from at lower prices. My friends don't go to these places and for the most part such places are not my wife's preference either ( to see the ones I do try and don't like , see my other reviews). Basicallyy, I was looking for Good Price for the Buck $$$, Ambiance , Food that is a Level Above Ordinary (Chinese) Fare and good Service. And for the most part Mandarinism won.

We came in around 2:30 pm. My friends did not arrive until later so we started looking over the menu. The place had subdued tones and was nice looking. It was not noisy at all even with this post lunch and happy hour time crowd. Most were here for the happy hour prices and getting together. There is a selections of wines, specialty drinks, beers etc. But we were aiming for the food. The menu is good but not extensive. A few chicken, beef, fish dishes are here (we wish there were more). More trended in the area of pork, shellfish, shrimp or combination. I had heard that this place did not have Crab Rangoon but it was on the menu. However it did not seem to be any different . There was soup of the day but no Chinese soup staples as in hot and sour soup or egg drop soup. I did not see any "specials of the day". I wish the waitress had asked what she thought was good. But I had " done my homework" and new what items were the some of the best to try anyway.

We could either choose from the lunch menu or the Happy Hour menu. I was not sure if I could get the lunch menu beyond 3:00 pm so I immediately ordered one of their signature items, the Orange Beef for lunch. It took a little while to figure out that one can still order off the lunch menu even though it is beyond "lunch time". The waitress said we could still order off the lunch menu and would come after our friends arrived with their meal. Just wanted to make sure.

My wife ordered the lunch special with Panko Chicken sandwich (without the bread ). This came with the green slaw and sweet potato fries. Thin slices and nicely fried with Panko crumbs it was good. The green slaw had tiny crisp slivers of cabbage that had a slight lemony flavor. The fries were short, thin and baked with Panko crumbs. This side dish were good but not great (I had tasted them at other Asian restaurants and made my own). It possibly needed salt. What was really missing to make this dish great for a side for an entree or with happy hour was a Asian, wasabi, a spicy ketchup or some some sort of condiment. She and I did not think to order something if something was available. It would have been good if the waitress asked it we wanted ketchup or something but I was too busy checking out the other entreess that did not need condiments.

The soup that came with the lunch, had nice tiny white rectangle pieces of tofu, with small pieces of carrots, mushrooms in a clear type broth which had no real distinctive flavor. Still it was good on this very cold day. I gave one of my small vegetarian spring rolls to my wife to nosh on. They were unremarkable. Crunchy but hard to decipher what kind of vegetables were in them (and I was not about to dig in to one of the pieces to find out).

I had heard about this restaurant's signature dish "Orange Beef" which actually uses sun dried tomato. When I heard about this when I checked out the menu, weeks before, I thought that this dish in itself should " raise the bar of the dish". I had actually made a Orange sun dried tomato version of this but with chicken and it was quite good so I was anticipating the flavor. The beef was smothered thin chunks of beef which were first coated (Panko?), fried and then had the orange sun dried sauce poured with it or over it with little thin strips of red and green peppers. This made for a nice combination. I could taste the hint of sun dried tomato with the orange flavor. It was not the fantastic dish I thought it would be, but it was good. The fluffy rice had a slightly nutty flavor had bits of fried egg and little carrots. These " little attention to detail " did not go unnoticed.

My friends had Jasmin tea which came with very nice tea ceramic pots. The hot water goes through the top which has the tea in it, you remove the top part and drink the tea with the bottom part. Cute and effective. Then their beef buns arrived.

I was very impressed. They did not come like a "whole bun with meat inside". Instead three of the "buns" came on a rectangle like dish with a dipping gravy type sauce. Each of the "buns" was a half like portion of the bun which were pretty big in size. Each had beef inside, spring onions and a mild sauce. My friends enjoyed the buns and thought it was cute and well set up. My wife and I tried one. We both liked the different, meaty flavor in the bun and the sauce had a little "twang" to it.

By that time, more people were coming in for the happy hour. However the place still was quite enough so that we could "kibbitz" and talk over life and time, kids stuff and more. We passed on the desserts but took some photos instead.

This place is nice but you might have to check for directions first as it is "tucked " away from the main road. More people have been finding this place or going out of their way to find it and try the different Chinese food that Mandarinism has for you. The menu is a little limited but what they have is quite good. If you prefer a place which has much more abundant food for the price and " the same old stuff ", then this might not be the place for you. The prices are reasonable, the food is different had well presented, the ambiancee is very good and we had a good time. So this place met all my criteria for today. I like this place and could see coming here again. If we want an Chinese or Asian meal next time, we will have to think about some other dishes we can try like the duck buns or some other entree. There is enough here to keep us coming back!

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