With a tip that Chin Chin in Brentwood, part of a small California-based chain, had a number of vegan choices, we visited tonight only to find that our waiter had not quite gotten with the program. Cautioning us that virtually every dish had chicken bouillon, he seemed unprepared for our demurral. The Szechuan string beans, at least, turned out to be an option, though an unimpressive one. Pan-fried and crisp, in a light brown sauce, they tasted mostly of garlic, while our other entrée, Fragrant Vegetables in Vegetarian Sauce, tasted mostly of ginger. Though our vegetable potstickers had an appealing texture, crisp and golden on the bottom, tender and white on top, they were stuffed with a relatively bland mixture of chopped vegetables, mostly carrots and mushrooms, and the sweet-and-sour apricot sauce on the side did little to help. Even the steamed rice was lackluster and dry. We have already lamented that good Chinese food is hard to come by in Los Angeles, especially for vegetarians (see June 23 review of Mandarette). Though affordable and inoffensive, Chin Chin gave us no reason to think otherwise.
Mandarette Cafe (8386 Beverly Blvd., at Orlando), a stylish but relaxed Beverly Grove restaurant. Tonight we started with one of the specials, a soup billed as a combination of tomato, spinach, and Napa cabbage, though it turned out to be glutinous and sweeter than expected, with tomato the dominant flavor. We were much more pleased with the potstickers, lightly fried and filled with a savory vegetable mash that had a mustardy kick. For our entrées, we ordered Chinese greens sauteed with black mushrooms, pan-fried string beans with fresh garlic, and vegetable mu shu. The “Chinese greens” turned out to be bok choy, a succulent cabbage; the “black mushrooms,” shiitakes. Though the dish was, again, not quite what we expected, it was well done, savory without being too salty. The string beans were quite nice, slightly crispy and not too garlicky in their light brown sauce. But the mu shu was perhaps the tastiest dish of the evening, a mixture of mushrooms, bean sprouts, eggs, and spinach good enough to eat on its own but truly delicious in a pancake wrap. We capped the meal with two excellent scoops of ice cream (chocolate and green tea) plated with a dollop of whipped cream, and a couple of fortune cookies. One of these promised, “You will find treasure in hidden places.” Though Mandarette is not exactly hidden, we will continue to treasure it as our best Chinese option…at least until our fortune changes.Pining for good Chinese food, which is surprisingly scarce in Los Angeles outside the San Gabriel Valley, we made our way to