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September 15, 2002

Mandalay: Inviting waters...

Abstract:An irregular outing in that it was for Sunday lunch. However, it all turned out for the best. My writing however in this review is pretty insipid and uninspired, so apologies in advance of you reading this.

Players:Back to the original trio of gangstas: Susan, Bobby and myself

Prologue: Behind the Curtain

Imagine a glorious day -- the bright sun a beacon in the sky beckoning you to bask in its warm glow and go frolicking in meadows, blue skies with a hint of wispy clouds like pale brushstrokes intended to highlight the blueness of the heavens and a slight breeze that ruffles people's hair without dissarranging it. All in all, a day that made you thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy it. Thus was the weather on the day of this outing [1]. The gods were smiling, candystripers skipping along while helping people and humanity was generally in a very mellow mood (except for those who weren't.)

It was a Sunday, and I had promised Bobby that I would come over to his place to look at his new toys on my way back from my sister's. So I arrive there at 11ish and get treated to Bob's new sound system. It sounded pretty good....and if I had more discerning ears, it probably would have sounded much better -- but at some point, my ears reach the peak of their operating efficiency and everything better than that point sounds about the same. Anyway, enough about the new audio setup (except that most of the equipment was from Nad, about whose name the less said the better.)

Given that I had to get back home in a couple of hours, we didn't have time for a long, lingering lunch or even a long, lingering discussion of where to go for lunch. It turned out that, Bobby having gone to take a shower, Susan and I decided that it was either an unnamed Italian place close by that we hadn't eaten at, or it was a Burmese place on Route 1 called Mandalay. The decision was short and easy.

Act I: The Setting

Mandalay is located on Rte. 1 within the beltway, near the UMD campus in College Park, MD. Anyone who's seen this part of the road knows that it's a veritable plethora of commercial and retail enterprises. The surroundings look busy, mostly due to the number of cars venturing hither and tither. However, there are very few people to be seen, and so I have no idea as to why I was left with this impression of busy-ness.

Mandalay is located in a small single-storey building on the east side of the road that seemed to house only a couple of establishments. It's kind of hard to know where to turn since the presence of Mandalay is only heralded by a yellow sign, and it's almost too late to turn by the time you read the sign. There's ample parking in front, side and back of the building. In fact the back resembles a free-for-all parking jamboree with no delineations for parking spaces, or where the parking lot ends. Its operating philosophy seems to be " Here's a blank canvas -- paint your car in there somewhere and make it look good."

Act II: Be it ever so humble...

When you enter Mandalay, you get hit with a sense of blandness and homeliness. The decor is simple and not much to speak of. The walls are painted a light sea green, and there are paintings and trinkets hung on the walls. It has two big windows on the front, which let in a goodly amount of light thereby brightening up the whole interior. There are about a dozen cheap-looking tables occupying the floor space, scattered about in an organized fashion. The whole place seems like the owners paid minimal attention to all the accessories and environment -- which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since all their attention went to the preparation of food, as we see later in this adventure.

Being a Sunday, and around noon, there weren't too many people at the restaurant. We were seated immediately by the friendly staff, and the only delay in our orders was due to the fact the we couldnt' make up our minds as to what to get.

Act III: Smiles and Spices

Now, Bob and Susan had been here before several times, and so they were in a quandry -- get the usual, or try something new. Meanwhile, I was happily lost amidst the unique choices the menu presented me with. There were the dishes with sour mustard (Chicken with sour mustard), those with mango pickle (pork with mango pickle) and a bunch of less exotic sounding dishes. The Burmese cuisine seems to have been influenced by not only India and Thailand, but also China, which made for a rather scrumptious menu (sorry, I just had to use that word). The food seemed to concentrate on highlighting one or two ingredients, but that didn't mean that the taste was simple. In fact, some of the dishes turned out to have rather subtle and complex tastes.

Bob ended up ordering one of his favorites, a noodle dish, while Susan ordered the tomato-tofu curry. I decided to order a cabbage salad and the chicken with sour mustard. I couldn't resist the latter, being curious concerning the taste of a dish with sour mustard in it (and not knowing what sour mustard was). Now, let's focus in on one particular part of the ordering process: after each person stated what they wanted, the waiter would ask what level of spiciness that person wanted. Now, Susan was the first to go, and she, after an initial hesitation, decided to go with "spicy" (the other choices being medium and mild). This small and rather insignificant utterance almost was our downfall. Since Susan went with spicy, neither Bobby nor I could go with anything less. There lieth the problem.

The salad arrived very promptly. It was a composed of a bunch of juliened veggies, cabbage and lettuce. It tasted amazingly good...with a myriad of flavors engaged in a friendly fight over which one got to tickle your taste buds. Unfortunately, the salad was soon over, but we didn't have to wait long for the main courses to arrive.

My dish, the chicken with sour mustard, was very good and very spicy. At least I thought it was very spicy until I tasted Susan's curry. Gak. That crystallized the meaning of "pleasure and pain". The taste was wunnerful -- probably the best tofu dish I've had to date. However, the spice was killer. The amazing part was that the spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors in the dish. Bobby's dish, while not quite as spicy as Susan's, was just as good. Other than the fact that my stomach was writhing in agony -- well, it was mostly my taste buds that were doing the sad dance. My stomach was just practicing for what was to come in the near future.

Epilogue: What's a Climax without dessert?

[Yes, it's the same heading as one of the previous reviews, but it's such a nice one] In order to sooth the savage beast that was my stomach, I decided that dessert and iced tea might be called for. Mandalay offers a very limited variety of desserts. However, one of them called "Shweji" looked appealing. It was made out of baked semolina, coconut cream and sugar, with some raisins addded in for fun. It looked similar to an Indian dessert called Sheera. It tasted pretty good to me -- though I don't think Susan was quite taken with the taste.

Ratings

Service Fast and very friendly
Decor Bland and uninteresting
Food Very good

Footnotes:

  1. Frankly, the weather had nothing whatsoever to do with the food outing, except that it put me in a really good mood -- and that might color my highly subjective opinion of the restaurant and the food.