By Jill Weinlein, 5/17/2012
In 1975, Mandarin restaurant opened in Beverly Hills serving exotic Chinese food in an elegant atmosphere for dining and special occasions. Since it was a huge success, the owner, Cecilia Chaing and her son Philip Chiang opened another restaurant on Beverly Blvd. – Mandarette (little orange), a smaller and more relaxed eatery.
Today, Mandarette is still going strong after 25-years thanks to Ken Yang’s family. “My father was a chef at Mandarette Café in the 80s,” Yang said. “Philip Chiang sold the restaurant to my father and then went on to open his first P.F. Changs.”
After some research, I discovered that Chiang dropped the “i” in his last name. He teamed up with Paul Fleming (P.F.) and incorporated both of their names into the mega-successful Chinese Bistro style-restaurant.
Yang’s sister ran Mandarette for years and recently turned the responsibility over to her brother, Ken. “I was born in Taiwan, lived in Japan and graduated from Boston University,” Yang said. As an aerospace engineer for years designing radar enhancement devices, he always had a pulse in the restaurant business due to his family’s involvement in Mandarette. “I took over in April 2011, when my sister was ready to retire,” he said. “Our methodology is not to serve traditional Chinese food with heavy sauces, starches and MSG. Instead, we cook in a more healthy way. We focus on the quality of food and use more California flavors,” Yang said. “Also, we only have Chinese chefs in our kitchen.”
Eager to try some of his dishes, my friends and I asked our server, Nesia, which are some of the most popular dishes. Without hesitation, Nesia announced, “The strawberry shrimp.” The shrimp is adorned with sweet ruby-red strawberries and broccoli. It’s addictive and a first-rate dish.
The ginger brown rice is an excellent side to accompany the various meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu. We scooped a mound of flavorsome rice on to our plates with a large spoonful of savory chicken sautéed with asparagus in a black bean sauce. The asparagus is cut on the diagonal and was cooked perfectly.
Another excellent choice was the House Lo Mein topped with shrimp, pork, chicken, broccoli, bok choy, carrots, snow peas, edamame and mushrooms. The noodles are simple and pure with a tasty sauce.
My eyes teared when the Kung Pao scallops arrived with sliced jalapenos decorating the dish. Fortunately, the fiery flavors of the peppers never revealed themselves. The crunchy cashews and al dente broccoli embellished the scallops.
Our last dish to try was the black peppercorn beef surrounded with broccoli and topped with scallions. It had a nice flavor with the ginger rice.
To accompany the food, we ordered Kirin beer on draught and a glass of Coppola Merlot. The cocktail list offers libations made from Tombo Premium Shochu that is noted, “tastes like vodka” with only 35 calories an ounce. These $7 drinks can be made into festive Cosmopolitans, Apple Martinis and Screwdrivers to name a few. The menu states they are “sulfite and gluten free.”
Nesia has worked at the restaurant with Yang for a few years. One of her favorite customers is actor Jon Voight. “He is so nice and always comes in with the same person,” Nesia said. “My friend worked here before I started, and told me about the time when he served Michael Jackson,” Nesia added. “He came in around 4 p.m. with a bodyguard and five people. He covered his face so no one would recognize him, yet my friend knew it was Michael Jackson right away.”
For dessert, we had fried wontons with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We gobbled up the sweet dish and walked out very satisfied. Hours Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Sat. and Sun. the restaurant opens at noon. 8386 Beverly Blvd. (323)655-6115.