Hit the Jackpot at The Mandalay
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Chinese restaurants are a staple on the Island, so when you’re choosing where to go for Asian cuisine, do you ever open yourself to something new or do you resign yourself to the tried and true? The former can be a gamble and the latter … well, redundant.
Today, my vegan lunch pal and I opt for the thrill of the gamble. Driving along Alakea Street, I’m often drawn to the elegant exterior of The Mandalay with its classy peach-toned marble and granite exterior, so we decide to give it a try.
The veggie items on the dim sum menu are Vegetarian Spring Rolls (3 pieces, $3.50) and Vegetable Rolls (2 pieces, $3.50; lunchtime only, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.). The crispy spring rolls contain shredded taro, shredded black fungus, carrots, cabbage and bamboo shoots, and come with a sweet and sour sauce — yummy, but traditional. The vegetarian roll that arrives in a bamboo steamer is more of a surprise. The plump dumpling filled with hunks of tofu, bean curd, black mushroom and baby corn is almost bursting from its cabbage leaf wrapping. A bite into that luscious bundle rewards the palate with an explosion of warm broth from the spongy tofu (we’re told it’s made from bean sprouts) and then there’s a crunch and a satisfying chewiness as your teeth hit the corn and the mushroom.
At our request for something vegan for the main course, our host, owner Linda Chan, feels the challenge. She wants to offer us the popular mu shu dish, but there’s no way around the eggs. She finds a quick solution: Vegetarian Lettuce Wrap ($12.95, not on the menu, must be specially ordered). A plate of six rounds of iceberg lettuce and a dark plum sauce arrive accompanied by a heaping plate of something grainy-looking — it’s just a tan heap, no beautiful flourishes or variety in shape or color.
My companion and I each grab a piece of lettuce, spread on a spoonful of the deep purple sauce, lay on some of the mystery filling and are rewarded with a zesty mouthful of nutty flavors in assorted consistencies, followed by a delicate hint of wok-fried smokiness.
“The filling is water chestnuts, chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushroom,” reveals Chan. “We stir-fry it with garlic and onion.”
The lettuce is a lighter way than the mu shu wrap to hold it all together and the plum offers a delightful tang.
In the end, we had both eaten to our content. With a toast of our tea cups, a few sips of the jasmine brew rounded off a great meal. We’d made a gamble and with Mandalay we hit the jackpot.
- 1055 Alakea Street
- Honolulu, HI 96813
- (808) 525-8585
- Open daily
- 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- Free, validated parking across Alakea Street at Bishop Square after 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday.