I've been promising myself to eat more Chinese when I'm on the road. The problem is that I don't react well to monosodium glutamate. But most of the better Chinese restaurants don't use MSG in their food. Finding them is a chore, but they're out there. One place that I found that doesn't used MSG in their food is the Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, MN (see map).
It was a cool and rainy night when I sought out the Mandarin Kitchen. Actually, I drove by it a couple of times because a number of the lights in the letters outside the restaurant were out. I kept seeing this place called "Man chen", but didn't put two and two together until I pulled into the little strip mall where the restaurant is located.
Typical of most Chinese restaurants, the Mandarin Kitchen has the oriental-themed decor. It was well-lit - almost too bright - and had a series of tables and booths throughout the spacious restaurant. I noticed a lot of Asian people were eating dinner in the place, so I figured that it must be as close to authentic that you could get in the Twin Cities.
Now, this was an AUTHENTIC Chinese restaurant. The help were all Chinese and spoke very fractured English. My waiter was especially difficult to understand.
I ordered the old stand-by - beef with broccoli. Only my waiter asked me if I wanted Chinese broccoli. I asked him, "What's that?"
He said, "Chinese broccoli."
I said, "Yeah, what's Chinese broccoli."
He looked at me and said again, "Chinese broccoli."
I said, "Yeah, OK, Chinese broccoli." I'd never had Chinese broccoli before, didn't know what it was, but I was to find out soon enough.
Chinese broccoli is not like real broccoli, but more of the stock of the broccoli. The leaves tasted somewhat like spinach, but it was cooked with ample amounts of garlic and ginger and it was interestingly good.
And paired with the beef, my dinner was pretty average for Chinese food. I can't say it was the best I've ever had, but it was edible. And, as always, they always bring too much food. I did finish all my beef slices and made a dent in the Chinese broccoli, but I had a lot of rice and broccoli left on my plate when I was finished.
Really, the only problem I had was that they sat me at a table right next to a party of seven who were sort of loud. No, not sort of loud - they WERE loud. Especially one woman who had a grating voice and whose conversation level was just below that of an evangelist.
Their conversations centered around what was on network television and Oprah. (I thought, "Man, what a sorry life these people are leading.) One couldn't help but hear what they were talking about. But I lived through it - even if they sat there and continued to talk about the current television shows long after they'd finished their meals.
I wasn't particularly overwhelmed by the Mandarin Kitchen. The food was average, but it worked that night. It might have been better had I not been so close to those people, but that's just another hazard of eating alone on the road.