There are some people who are the equivalent of early adopters when it comes to the food scene. As soon as someplace new opens, they are on it and start spreading the word.
at Novato’s already has the local foodies raving with word-of-mouth recommendations that any restaurant owner would love to hear within three months of opening.
It’s not surprising when you know that owner Benson Hong has the credentials to create a top-notch restaurant. He worked for more than 20 years at the celebrated Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square. Opened by Cecilia Chiang, it was the restaurant that introduced us to authentic Chinese cuisine in the 1970s. I shake my head when I remember what used to pass for Chinese food before then.
Hong opened his namesake Mandarin restaurant in May in the space that was once the Garden Court, on the ground floor of the Novato Days Inn off North Redwood Boulevard not far from the landmark Birkenstock building.
He brought with him Chef Rui-Li-Lin, who worked at the Fountain Court on Clement Street in San Francisco, to help him bring in authenticity and quality.
In addition to that overall freshness and quality to standard entree items, Hong has some special menu items he's offering to make his restaurant a standout. I can say it in five words: Peking Duck and Dim Sum.
Peking Duck needs to be ordered with 24 hours notice, and Hong has installed a special oven especially for making the duck. Also on the menu, without the need to order in advance, is Smoked Tea Duck. Hong explained that with Smoked Tea Duck you eat the meat and with Peking Duck you eat the specially prepared skin.
You have to read Leslie Harlib’s excellent review of The Mandarin. She said the food knocked her socks off and advised that even non-Novato residents should make the trek to try it.
Harlib also sampled the wide selection of dim sum, including beef shumai, shrimp dumplings, vegetarian steamed dumplings and chicken potstickers. She called the chive pockets among the best dim sum she’s had in Marin.
The early adopters are right. Hong has brought something special to the Novato restaurant community and it’s well worth trying and spreading the word.
The Mandarin Restaurant, Authentic Chinese Cuisine, 8141 Redwood Blvd., Novato. Phone 415-897-1555, Fax 415-897-8367. Open daily for dinner, Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. for lunch. Beer and wine. www.MandarinRestaurantOnline.com