Do you know about the breaking news yet? As reported on the sidebar, Mandarin Noodle Deli closed on April 4, 2010. (If you didn't already know by the news on Yelp!) The owner wanted to take a break, and open another restaurant in a few months after her break. This was a shock, a unusual feeling for most people and me. This owner has been working her restaurants (used to be Monterey Park, then she moved to Temple City) for over 30 years. For me, it's a childhood restaurant. Without her restaurant available to us as we desired, it felt weird as we had a "hole" now in terms of our options to choose from. We have been eating there for a very, very long time and to see the owner leave was a bit sad. And we forgot to visit on the closing night.
So, what happened with the location? A new restaurant came in. "New Mandarin Noodle Deli." Similar name, you say. But the Chinese name is completely different. And if you can read it, they are a Shan Dong style restaurant.
However, most people came here thinking it would be the same as the old owner. The old carryout business was still busy here, as customers thought it was the old Mandarin Noodle Deli. Serious fans of the old location however came to hopefully find something similar to the old owner. A group of seniors came in, just to check. They noticed all the details; they made sure everything they liked was still good or bad. When more members of the group came in, the existing group would fill them in on the details. Who knew the fans of Mandarin Noodle Deli were this serious? We came, hoping for a good replacement restaurant.
The outside was the same as before, as they had not yet refurbished that portion yet. However, inside, there was a new splash of paint. The new owner seemed to like a very dark restaurant. Why? I like light! (You know me...) Even the newly installed air conditioner was not turned on. By the end of the meal, we were sweating like it was summer.
The shelf of materials and writing/calligraphy had been removed as well, now all blank. There were not too many customers during our weekday visit, but there were plenty of take out orders!
The new owner also put large paintings up to make the restaurant seem not so boring. Even so, the restaurant felt plain compared to its old past.
We sat down, browsed the menu, and made sure to order what we liked about the old Mandarin Noodle Deli. Then, when the waitress came, we asked what was special and asked if the old chefs were still here. What did she say? "Nope, the old chefs are gone. Everything is new, but it's good! Try our Sheng Jian Bao; it is our specialty." So that's what we did.
We started out with some Simmered Seaweed (2.95 USD), and when it arrived at the table, we were all disappointed. Why? Because it was just wakame seaweed with some ponzu sauce. Quite obvious, as I've made this at home for years after 99 Ranch Market introduced the concept. Unfortunately, this wakame tends to be a bit "fishy" or off tasting and if you don't do much with it, it doesn't taste very good. In addition, the seaweed texture was a mix of crunchy and limp, which was unusual. This dish in general was a bit different from your usual seaweed appetizer. For us, lots of vinegar solved the trick, but the point is that we should not need to alter appetizers like these. Portion size was small but I won't get into that.
What we all commonly call "green onion pancakes" is called Scallion Thick Pan Cake (3.50 USD) here. Green Onion Pancakes were the signature, "the awesometacular" item of the past management. How was this? In terms of style, this was more like Earthen's version, more pillow-y with less layers. However, it lost the fragrance and the green onion flavors of the old Mandarin Noodle Deli. It itself basically had no green onion flavor. Instead it is now more like bread to go along with your meal. Ahem, it was as bad as my version. Which is pretty bad as I had so little scallions to use! Nothing great to eat by itself, but it worked as a vehicle for something else. But why? The point of calling it a green onion pancake is for the green onions. Old version, please come back.
Another signature item of the old management arrived next: Beef Stewed noodle Soup (6.75 USD).
Wei Chuan's frozen version. Because it was actually quite similar! Ahem. Plenty of vinegar was added by our dining companion so it shows this isn't the best we've had. I think I'll go back to A&J for NRM now. It's better compared to here, but the noodles are much more interesting here. At least the beef noodle soup here is not bad. But there are better versions! Good job on the noodles though, I have to say. Everything else was standard.
These were okay, if not the best we have eaten yet. The bottom grilled portion was very flavorful but also a bit thick and too crispy. There was more bread on top rather than the bottom and the meat, although tasty, was given in stingy amounts. Also quite oily, with the bread being regular in terms of moistness. The best Sheng Jian Bao for me is Noodle House in Arcadia, where the bread is puffy, even a bit buttery and rich, and the meat is ultra flavorful. Dipped in a spicy soy sauce, they are made even better. But too bad I don't know where the owner is now for a plate of them! Why is it that the past seems to be better in the present?
We ended the meal with a Leek Cake (aka Chive Pie or "Jiu Cai He Zi") (2.95 USD). This was obviously made fresh and then frozen, as the chives were all limp and it tasted like something of a frozen product (a la Dumpling House from last year).
In overall? Too bad. This place doesn't live up to its location anymore. If you are looking for the old location, say bye bye for now. Come here with different expectations. It's been quite sad, since all the new restaurants that have opened up in Arcadia and Temple City over the past months haven't been impressive at all, except for Capital which is now a go to anytime for dim sum! (But still, I can't really, really like it as they use way too many additional weird items like baking soda and food coloring!) And old restaurants like Empress Harbor, Ocean Star, and NBC? They are getting worse and worse to the point of shock. Why can't the traditional places be like how they used to be? As much as we love new style places like Capital, Sea Harbour, and the like, there are people out there looking for food that they loved a few years ago. And this new generation of restaurants is just so much different in quality- many using processed products and additional items like food coloring and MSG when you really don't need them!
To continue on the story about the large group of seniors who just came here to check out if it was like the old location, they would be like this"Yay, this is like it used to be!" but that only popped up once, only for the fried rice. They left kind of feeling sad, but they were happy to be eating in the location!
Time will tell if New Mandarin Noodle Deli is successful. From what it seems right now, the vibe here is just getting worse. Bad reviews on Yelp. And a medicore review from me. My dining companions, if they were writing this, would say it was worse than what I felt, but we all find a way to make our negatives sound like a positive or else people will hate us. But who knows? They might change their recipes with customer responses, even if it is customary to not say anything bad to the owner.
Of course, there will be plenty of people waiting for the old owner to open shop somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. After more than 30 years, it's hard to see your old favorite dining spot go away. And I will be waiting, waiting for that day to come.
New Mandarin Noodle Deli
9537 Las Tunas Dr.
Temple City, CA 91780
Tel: (626) 309-4318