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Who Put the “POW” In Kung Pao?

by Maggie Zeibak

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.

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


"Mind your own business is the huge lie. We are all commanded to be involved in each others lives.." - EWB

Stores Include: Blue Danube - Restaurant and Banquet Facilities European Food, New Mandarin Garden - Chinese Food, HOLLYWOOD Cafe - American Food - Breakfast, Los Patios - Mexican Food, Aloha Spirit - Hawaii collectibles, Fifi Lala - Custom Jewelry, Paradise Creations - Full Service Bridal Salon, Art Glass Studio of San Clemente - Glass Art, Carla's Cosmetics, Skin Card and Accessories, Kenn Hare - Black and White Photography, Design Vision -Professional Interior Designers, Exquisite Gold Smith - Intricate and Stunning Jewelry and Repairs, Americal Windows and Doors.

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