The food was excellent at Mandarine in Ho Chi Minh City. One problem; the experience was quite similar to my dinner at Hoi An two nights before. Mandarine and Hoi An have the same owner. Even the manager admitted there wasn’t much difference between the two restaurants. It’s still worth eating here. Mandarine just had a déjà vu quality.
Mandarine and Hoi An both have intricate dark wood decor. Where Hoi An has two levels, Mandarine has three.
Both restaurants have three-piece bands; Mandarine’s is more up-tempo. Only Mandarine had this row of Vietnamese cymbals.
Mandarine mirrored Hoi An’s complimentary dishes of roasted peanuts and kimchi; this version wasn’t as crisp.
For my appetizer, I ordered Cha Gio Bong Bi (pumpkin flower spring rolls, $7). It was an impressive presentation: six feather-light, fried pumpkin flowers stuffed with ground pork and shrimp, with flowers carved from red peppers and carrots, and a small pumpkin on top of shredded banana flowers. Tempura chefs could learn about delicate frying from the Mandarine masters.
For my entrée, I ordered Cua Hop Bia (crab steamed in beer, $16.70). It was a huge crab, plucked from the “local sea” and steamed in Tiger beer. I made a total mess. Crab juice dribbled down my chin, onto my napkin, and practically drenched a section of tablecloth. I dipped the juicy nuggets of sweet crab into a salt and pepper dip and squeezed on lime.
I also enjoyed an excellent mango juice ($2.50), fresh squeezed and sporting an orchid.
Desserts were almost all French, including Fanny’s ice cream, which I didn’t even like at the original Ha Noi location, so I skipped it. One Vietnamese dessert even involved the words “green bean” and “soup.” No thanks.