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Mandarin (Pickering ONT, Canada)
||1725 KIngston Road,|
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(4) page: 14 and 18
One of eleven, and soon to be twelve Canadian locations, I list the one above as that was the only one I tried of this outstanding franchise concept's restaurants. They are in Toronto and its suburbs including Brampton, Burlington, Erin Mills, Markham, Mississauga, North York, Rexdale, Scarborough, and Toronto/Yonge.
Actually, I was taken there by the president of the Mandarin Restaurant Franchise Corporation, James Chiu, for lunch while attending the World Conference on Chinese Cuisine. I am reporting on it as this was an impromptu event orchestrated for about ten of us.
Mr. Chiu called the owner of the newest (it seats 400), but is not the largest (which seats more than 600), of his facilities and asked if he could bring us along. Bring us he did, and pay he did also; told me it would be unfair to do otherwise.
The drive was forty minutes, so even if they swept the floors for our coming, they could not have done much else. We arrived to a spotless place, the hundreds of tiny window panes all sparkling, bathrooms spotless, kitchen likewise (had a tour), and the six food-islands chocked full of fine food. As to the cleanliness, not only was I impressed, but it impressed those before me as it was voted "cleanest restaurant in town" and "cleanest restaurant in the whole city" (Toronto); also "best Chinese restaurant in Toronto," by the Toronto Sun.
There were six humongous islands, Three were for cold foods, one appetizers and salads, two for desserts. The hot islands, as the cold-food ones, were about twenty feet long and three feet wide. Each had at least thirty different food items; the salad bar had fifty. The idea was an all-you-can-eat buffet and hot grill; or if you insisted, there is a regular Chinese menu to select from and eat ala carte, or order for take-out (about ten percent of their business). Chiu advised that about ninety percent of those who eat in order the buffet and help themselves. More come for dinner than for lunch as we did. They get more sumptuous choices including carved meats such as turkey and prime rib. Hardly Chinese but this is an eclectic blend of Chinese and Canadian. If I had such a great thing going and my restaurants had won an 'Ace Award' and a 'Readers Voice award,' I would mix and match a few western foods with mostly Chinese ones, too.
In the over two hours we were there, I found the buffet staying fresh because people were replacing depleted items frequently. The restaurant is only open from noon to 3:00 p.m. and then it reopens at 5:00 p.m. and week nights closes at 9:30 p.m.; week-ends a mite later, different hours on different days. That helps shorten the times it is in use.
At this gorgeous place they fed us well. I started with soup, there were two heated kettles on the cold appetizer/salad island, and they were the only weak link. Though loaded with good ingredients, all fresh, the flavors themselves were thin and weak. I tried some Chinese salad items, such as cold noodles in a peanut sauce and tofu with mixed vegetables; they were great. The American-style salad-bar items were typical: crispy and fresh...tomatoes tasteless, all else wonderful, but I just nibbled there.
My next two plates, taken on two separate trips, were loaded with about twenty items. These included items such as Singapore Noodles, Barbecued Spare Ribs, Chicken with Almonds, Beef with Mixed Chinese Vegetables, a Zesty Beef in a sweet orange and hot pepper sauce, Breaded Mushrooms, and some fried lean Peking Style Pork sauteed in a sweet and sour sauce. Every item had its name on the pan, was only about two inches deep and replaced very often, all looked good, and to my delight, nay surprise, they all tasted good, too. Rare is the buffet with lots of meat and seafood. Mandarin had lots, be it Curried Shrimp, Scallops with Sauteed Beef, or Lemon Chicken. They also had a grill station at lunch and dinner, and the Beef Satay and three other skewered foods on it were crisp and flavorful. I was told that at dinner it is many times bigger and better.
Overall there were those fifty items on the salad station-island-bar, forty-five on each of two hot food locations, and dozens upon dozens of desserts including ten flavors of ice cream on one of them. It was great ice cream, too, the litchee and the bean were especially good; even the vanilla was top drawer!
While eating, the frequently heard Chinese restaurant song: Happy Birthday, erupted. A light flashed, four women grinned, and one was presented with her snapshot in a plastic self-standing frame along with a birthday piece of pie complete with candle.
Though I avoid buffets, especially Chinese buffet restaurants, on a subsequent trip to Toronto, I'd rush there, eat lunch for less than $10.00 tax and tip included, get an additional twenty percent discount if I went with someone over the age of 65, pour toppings galore on my several portions of ice cream, eat a Canadian dessert called a Nanaimo Bar, skip the jello but gorge on the fresh fruits, and then skip dinner, too. Or I'd skip lunch, go for dinner and have Canada's AAA Prime Rib, New Brunswick Lobster any style, quite a few grilled meat items, and perhaps, even a drink at their huge and well-stocked bar. Whatever the meal, I'll never go to Toronto without visiting one of the Mandarins, and I'll keep asking, as I did then, please bring one of these wonderful franchised-chain restaurants to New York so that I can indulge more often in this largest of Chinese and Canadian buffets.