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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 5, 2006

Chinese food for every budget

By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Mini Garden's char siu and won ton noodle soup, spicy beef shank casserole, tamarind shrimp and almond tofu with mango sauce and lychee.

Advertiser library photos

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Mandalay's sizzling chicken with garlic, clams in wine sauce and crab with black bean sauce.

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XO's Raymond Chau and his stir-fried crab with XO sauce.

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MINI GARDEN

2065 S. Beretania St., in McCully

946-3828

11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays

$6.75-$11.95 entrees

THE MANDALAY

1055 Alakea St., downtown

525-8585

10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; dim sum served 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

$8.50-$38 entrees

XO SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

1718 Kapi'olani Blvd., across from Hawai'i Convention Center

942-2020

11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily

$7-$35 entrees

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CHEAP AND CHEERFUL

For cheap, late-night eats that go beyond burgers and ramen, the Beretania Street branch of Chinatown's Mini Garden delivers.

In the renovated space, with warm butter-yellow walls, blond wood and a big-screen television playing Cantonese karaoke dramas, you can get steaming bowls of wor gau gee noodles in soup ($6.75) that's filled with vegetables, shrimp, chicken char siu and pork dumplings.

Although Mini Garden is known for its Hong Kong noodle offerings about 60 of them the rest of the menu's 200-some selections consist of an extensive range of Chinese comfort food. They include dishes inspired by Chinese-influenced Southeast Asian fare, such as addictive head-on tamarind shrimp ($11.95).

Another standout is Szechuan spicy beef shank ($11.95), a casserole dish big enough for two, with large chunks of tender beef immersed in rich gravy, aromatic with ginger and peppercorns.

There also are enough vegetarian items seitan and choy sum over noodles ($6.95) is a winner to make no-meat eaters feel welcome.

Mini Garden is friendly enough, and a die-hard regular might cast a lifeline and recommend dishes to you, making it a neighborhood destination.

CANTONESE CHIC

Eastern Garden owners Larry and Linda Chan sank $1.5 million into renovating downtown's old Yong Sing site to open Mandalay. The result is O'ahu's most elegantly modern Chinese restaurant, serving Cantonese cuisine and Hong Kong-style dim sum. A glittering, sleek bar greets you as you enter the moon doors. From a balcony dining area you can gaze down on a frequently busy scene downstairs.

Executive chef Shea King Kan and his staff turn out dishes such as intoxicatingly refreshing cold drunken clams ($12.95) in a dark wine sauce; shrimp simply stir-fried with slices of fresh red chilies Szechuan-style ($15.99); and spicy beef sauteed with tangerine peel ($9.50) that has none of the cloying sweetness found at middling joints.

Dim sum is served all day long (and Mother's Day is coming up). Diners choose dumplings from numbered boxes on a slip of paper, not carts. Peanuts, chive bits and pork fill delicious Chiu Chow-style dumplings (three for $2.85).

Baked barbecue-pork buns (three for $2.85) arrive with perfectly browned tops and a richly flavored meat filling.

The Chans thought of everything: Next door to the main restaurant is a takeout counter offering plate-lunch choices.

HONG KONG CUISINE

At XO Seafood, along with shark fin soup ($9 per person or part of $18 set meal for 2 to 4), you can order wine and tiramisu. Thirty-year restaurant veteran Raymond Chau's new restaurant may look like a fast-food place on the outside, but has attentive waitstaff and Hong Kong cuisine inside.

The restaurant is named for Hong Kong's famous XO sauce (itself named after extra-old brandy, although it contains none), made with dried scallops and shrimp, red chili pepper and spices. Initially associated with high-end Cantonese seafood palaces, the sauce comes in bottled versions now common in Asian food stores.

The restaurant's Cantonese fare also has a few local touches, such as yin yang poke ($12) and XO rib-eye steak ($18), sliced and sizzling on a platter Korean bulgogi-style with onion and fresh shiitake mushroom.

The menu says that sweet-and-sour wontons ($10), "served with a very unique sauce," include duck, shrimp and char siu. I thought the meats would be inside the deep-fried dumplings, but the delicacies turned up submerged in a sweet red sauce that filled a small accompanying bowl to its brim.

A house specialty of lobster sauteed in XO chile sauce ($28, $35) was stir-fried with egg and scallions. Its gooey saltiness masked the flavors of the meat but was still spicily addictive. Tender scallops sauteed with pine nuts and baby bok choy ($12) delivered a good soft-crunchy balance with the delicate seafood flavor. And plump, juicy clams in black bean sauce ($10) had a nice smoky depth.

Reach Helen Wu at hwu@honoluluadvertiser.com. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, service and ambience in relation to price. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. Reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. The Advertiser pays for meals.