by Maggie Zeibak
Manager Lawrence Wong with owners Jack & Nancy Cheng.For decades America has had a passion for Chinese food. When the craving strikes, we simply rush out to dine, or pick up the phone to order take-out. We all have our favorite dishes and preferences of fried or steamed rice, but preparation varies from restaurant to restaurant. Perfecting the art of offering a varied menu of hot, sizzling dishes is the spacious New Mandarin Garden tucked away in the Old City Plaza.
Owner, Jack Cheng, bought the restaurant from a friend 19-years-ago, but hadn’t any idea that San Clemente would grow the way it has. “I didn’t know it was so nice and I am very lucky to be here. When I first took over I decided to remodel and paint the place in softer colors. I changed the menu to reflect a blending of Cantonese and Szechuan flavors which appeal more to American tastes. Cantonese cooking is not spicy and most of my customers like spicy dishes, so I add hot peppers to create more of a unique Szechuan-region style. You can spot those dishes on the menu by the chile pepper drawing next to the item. We’re a family-operated business and I have nieces, nephews and cousins working here and my cook, Charlie Chen, has been preparing meals for over 18 years. Often, we cater corporate parties, sometimes for over 100 people – just tell us what you’d like.”
Lunch time is a bustling time with workers from neighboring businesses and the nuclear power plant, coming to dine in a limited amount of time. Almost immediately upon sitting down, a pot of hot tea is served and in no time at all, a cup of steaming Hot and Sour Soup, guaranteed to wake up those sluggish taste buds.
After that generous serving, you’re not so ravenous any more – but wait – there’s another plentiful portion coming your way. Served on blue and white oval plates your entrée arrives piping hot straight from the kitchen. This is when you don your eyeglasses to identify the peppers hiding in the mound. If you’ve ordered a spicy dish – they can be hot, so deftly push them to one side with your chopsticks or you’ll be experiencing the ‘pow’ in Kung Pao.
The Sunday brunch buffet at the New Mandarin Garden offers a wide variety of cantonese dishes. Popular dishes include Orange Chicken or Beef, crispy meats smothered and cooked in a tasty sauce that encourages you to take bite after bite and leave nothing to take home. The Chow Mein (it means “soft noodle”) isn’t spicy and you can choose between beef, shrimp, chicken, pork or vegetable and only spend $8 or less. Now that’s a lunch time bargain to chow down. Be sure to check the specials on the board at the entrance of the restaurant – these are Mandarin Garden’s special dishes and include Sizzling Scallops and Beef ($14.95) and tasty Sesame Chicken ($8.95).
There is a Health Menu featuring choices for vegetarians and assuring us that these items are Low Fat, Low Sugar, Low Salt and No MSG added. As we become increasingly more aware of what we put into our mouths, this is a menu selection we should check out first.
Is anyone in the mood for a plate of crunchy steamed vegetables accompanied by your choice of a Hot Garlic or Ginger Dipping Sauce?
Reminding us not to miss the ($12.95) Sunday Champagne Brunch, Canton-born Cheng mentioned that Family Style dinners are also available starting at $14.95 – it looks like a whole lot of food, but great if you have a tribe of teenagers to feed. That’s the best part about Chinese food, with such a variety, there’s something for everyone.
He also said, “Next time you come in, try the Honey Walnut Shrimp. We make it a little different from everyone else, as I like to have subtle lemon undertones, rather than the shrimp being overpowered by honey. Once you’ve tried this dish you’ll order it again and again. That’s why whenever I say goodbye to my regular customers I always say ‘See you tomorrow’ as I know that they will come back and I will be pleased to see them.”
Garlic features prominently in some dishes – welcomed by some, shunned by others. Change the taste by chomping down on your obligatory fortune cookie (did you get a good fortune?) or help yourself to the complimentary mints. Either way, you’re going to leave the restaurant feeling satisfied.
Much of the Chinese New Year celebrations revolve around food and giving children the traditional red envelope containing money. Everyone at the restaurant wishes San Clemente “Gung Hay Fat Choy” (Happy Chinese New Year) and if you want to know who put the “Pow” in Kung Pao – well, Jack did, of course. b
New Mandarin Garden: 492-7432
The Chinese Zodiac
Many Chinese believe that the year of a person’s birth is the primary factor in determining that person’s personality traits, physical and mental attributes and degree of success and happiness throughout his lifetime. Find your year of birth to find your animal sign.
RAT – 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996
You are ambitious, yet honest. You tend to spend freely. Seldom make lasting friendships, perhaps because of your quick temper. Happy in Sales. Most compatible with Dragons and Monkeys - least compatible with Horses.
OX – 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997
Bright, patient and inspiring to others. Don’t demand your own way. Outstanding parent. Consider a military career. Marry a Snake or a Cock. The Sheep will bring trouble.
TIGER – 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998
Tiger people are aggressive, stubborn, courageous, candid and sensitive. Makes a great boss. Look to the Horse and Dog for happiness. Beware of the Monkey.
RABBIT – 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999
Luckiest of all signs. You are talented and articulate; affectionate, yet shy. Seek the stage as an actor or a lawyer. You seek peace, so marry a Boar or a Sheep, but stay away from the Cock.
DRAGON – 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000
You are eccentric and your life complex. Learn to think before you speak. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health. Politics may appeal to you. Marry a Monkey or Rat late in life. Avoid the Dog.
SNAKE – 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001
Wise and intense with a tendency towards physical beauty. Perhaps vain and high tempered. Handle your procrastination and you could be a teacher. The Boar is your enemy. The Cock and the Ox are your best signs.
HORSE – 1942,1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002
Popular and attractive to the opposite sex. You are often ostentatious and impatient, but a hard worker. As a poet you need people. Marry a Tiger or Dog early, but never a Rat.
SHEEP – 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003
Elegant and creative, you are timid and prefer anonymity. Be less dependent on material comforts. Cultivate yourself as a gardener. Most compatible with Boars and Rabbits, but never the Ox.
MONKEY – 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
You are very intelligent and are able to influence people. An enthusiastic achiever, you are easily discouraged and confused, but you can be anything you want. Avoid Tigers, but seek Dragons and Rats.
COCK – 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
A pioneer in spirit, you are devoted to work and quest after knowledge. You are a flashy dresser and eccentric, suited to a world traveler. Rabbits are trouble but Snakes and Oxen are fine.
DOG – 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
Loyal and honest, you work well with others. Generous, yet stubborn and you worry a lot. As a businessperson you’ll do well. Look to the Horse and Tiger, but watch out for Dragons.
BOAR – 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
Noble, chivalrous and intellectual. Your friends will be lifelong, yet you are prone to marital strife. Are you an entertainer? Avoid other Boars. Marry a Rabbit or a Sheep.