Mandarin Chinese Restaurant (Jerusalem, Israel)
||2 Shlomzion Hamalka Street,|
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(1) page: 27
We need a Chinese food fix after visiting this city's historic old part, so we stop into the local tourist office. They suggest a place and how to get there. They also tell us that a dozen years before there were more than a dozen Chinese restaurants nearby to choose from, now only this one remains. We do not verify but did learn it is the oldest and has been in business since 1958, ten years after the founding of this country. They have no business cards and no take-away menus, hence no pictuure appears here.
Founded by Mrs. Lee, who at the time of our visit is a spry short eighty-year-old. She still oversees this Qing Dynasty-look-alike and lovely second floor eatery. Billy Chen, its fluent Hebrew-speaking manager of Hong Kong heritage tells us the kitchen is tended by Chef Hong, a Fujianese native who mans two woks and has tended them for many years. He also tells us that ninety percent of the customers are foreigners who join the Israeli ten percent; clearly everyone in attendance hankers for a Chinese food fix. We do, too!
This Mandarin serves a businessman's lunch. It includes one each from half dozen appetizers and another from four times as many main-course selections. If there for that lunch or for dinner, do order tea even though it comes in a plastic thermos that does stay hot in their melamine teacups. We note that Chinese customers get their tea in a lovely China teapot with China teacups; we ask for them and with reluctance finally did get them; suggest you do the same.
Here, Wonton Soup is thin, their wonton are large but with little filling. The Corn Soup, however, is thick and absolutely wonderful. One main course, Szechuan Spare Ribs, are sweet and tender with a really red sauce called 'plum sauce.' It has nary a plum nor any other fruit, one taste was too much and we do not need that sugar-fix.
Noodles with Beef are fine. We order Fried Toufu with Black Mushrooms in Sauce, and it is a disappointment. Of interest is that each one-inch cube of bean curd is cut down but not through in both directions. This makes for lots of crispy exterior and very soft interiors. The mushrooms are soggy and ordinary button mushrooms. They and their vegetable companions swim in lots of light brown sauce.
When we query the manager as to why no black mushrooms. At first he points out the champignons in the dish. When we point out they are neither Chinese nor black, he stumbles and tells us they must have used them all up that day and none are soaked and available now. Hardly a reasonable excuse, we retort. After all, we did see dry ones in Tel Aviv's Levinsky market so they are available, and not that costly.
Eggplant in Hot Garlic Sauce redeems the place. Not that piquant but loaded with good taste, this dish comes with lots of shredded carrot, one slice of cucumber, and many slices of onion. We all dig in and devour.
This first Chinese restaurant in Israel is reminiscent of early Chinese food in many countries. Enjoy its ambiance, try many of its dishes, and bring your old memories to the fore.