In Russia, I learned from one of our language teachers that someone who has been excluded, for instance, from some social event, is entitled to exclaim, “What am I, a redhead?” I feel that this expression is not one that we need to borrow for the American vernacular, and yet it strikes me that there is a restaurant in town, a “red” one nonetheless, that is for some reason often forgotten by us. What if I told you about a restaurant that is close to campus, affordable, and decent in taste? And what if I told you that for some reason, no one ever goes there?
Such a large disconnect between attendance and suitability as a dining option seems impossible, and yet this is the situation facing Mandarin Garden, a restaurant situated in a prime location right across from Domino’s. Through many informal interviews with Carleton students, all I was able to establish about Mandarin Garden was that nobody ever eats there, and that it suffers from a generally poor reputation for reasons that are unclear due to the fact that nobody has ever eaten there. The mission of this column being “to boldly dine where no Carl has dined before,” and there was no question about what restaurant I would make the focus of this week’s column.
Mandarin Garden’s strained relationship with Carleton students has apparently been an issue throughout its fairly long existence. Mandarin Garden’s website places their grand opening in the year 1981. One of my friends told me a story of how her uncle used to work there when he was a Carleton student in the late 80’s. His employment there ended when all of the Carleton students working at Mandarin Garden were fired en masse, ostensibly for stealing beer from the kitchen. I surmise from the current state of things that Carleton students collectively vowed never to eat at Mandarin Garden again to protest this unjust accusation, and this feud between Montague Garden and Capulet College has continued to this day. This, of course, is mere conjecture.
It was time to get an adult perspective on things: I asked my boss at work what he thought of the establishment, and he told me that he was generally satisfied with the food, although he admitted to having a “pretty Midwestern taste in Chinese food.” He did warn me that Mandarin Garden seems to exist within a different space-time continuum: “A 20 minute wait quickly stretches into 40 minutes!” With plenty of time to kill but with doubts as to whether my taste in Chinese food would be “Midwestern” enough, I decided to take the plunge.
When I arrived at Mandarin Garden I noted that the sign listing their hours was in a surprisingly countercultural font, perhaps better suited to advertising a Prom Queef show than a 10 p.m. closing time. Another sign in a similar font just inside the door instructed us counterculturally to “PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED.” So we waited. And waited. To pass the time, we stared at the actual Mandarin garden inside the restaurant, which turned out to be a collection of rather dull-looking potted plants. Finally we were seated by a big, old-ish man who was wearing a sweater that had “NAVY” written on the front in a very large, pro-establishment kind of font. The clothing of the people working at Mandarin Garden was as eclectic as their font choices. There was a woman wearing a cheongsam-type shirt, and our young server was wearing a green v-neck sweater over a red shirt in a color scheme highly reminiscent of the holiday that happens to be the best day of the year to be a Chinese restaurant.
But let’s get to the food, lest I keep you waiting for as long as we waited for our food to come at Mandarin Garden. Yes, the distortions in the space-time continuum were on full display that day (after about 10 minutes of idly sitting at our table, someone walked up to us and said, “Let me get you boys some water...”). But eventually, we were fed. And the taste? In the famous words of the POTUS, it was “not bad!” We ordered wontons and pot stickers as appetizers, both of which were very tasty. Most tempting on the menu are the combination platters, which offer a full plate of food with diverse contents for six to seven dollars. However, these dishes seemed in general to be of lower quality than the standalone entrées, which were slightly more expensive.
Also, we drowned ourselves in their tea, which was very good and also unlimited, provided one payed a tea surcharge of one dollar per person. The man with the pro-establishment Navy sweatshirt would come to our table fairly regularly and look inside our teapot, and then say to us, “You need more tea.” I did not get the impression that he was asking a question.
After our waiter brought us our bill, he suddenly said, “How could I forget?” after which he proceeded to leave fortune cookies on the table for us. 10 minutes later, after we had worked out to what extent each person should make it rain, Matt looked over at the table and said, “How could we forget?” He then broke open one of the fortune cookies, which still sat forgotten on the edge of the table.
Yes, indeed, how could we have forgotten? Mandarin Garden offers a convenient location, affordable prices, pretty decent food, and slow but steady service, but yet despite these advantages it is the “redhead” that is constantly forgotten when Carls plan their meals out. There is no reason that this should be the case. I say that it’s high time that we ended this weird feud.
Or is it? When I opened my fortune cookie, I saw that the first line of my fortune read: “Someone is interested in you.” How nice! But I quickly saw the much more macabre second line: “Keep your eyes open...” Suddenly, I felt the piercing gaze of every employee at Mandarin Garden target my body. Cold sweat dripped down my brow. Do some feuds never end?