No. 23: Mandarin Lamb at Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Old_Mandarin_Cumin_Lamb.jpg
Anthony Bak/www.pragmaticepicurean.com
Old Mandarin's Mandarin lamb, $9.95
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

SF_92.jpg
Old Mandarin's namesake lamb dish is the exception to SFoodie's rule of avoiding any dish with the word "Mandarin" in its name -- aka, smothered in orange syrup. The Islamic Chinese restaurant's Mandarin lamb, whose name other local restaurants translate as "cumin lamb," originated in China's northwestern, Islamic regions but has become a staple on menus from Chengdu to Beijing.

You can smell the dish exiting the kitchen -- heck, you may be able to smell the lamb hitting the wok; the meat is dry-fried with so much crushed cumin, garlic, and chiles that the curls of lamb look gritty, and the wisps of steam that rise off the dish have a sweaty, practically pheromonal charisma. The fire under the wok is high enough to blacken the edges and turn the meat cola-colored, yet when you stick a tangle of lamb in your mouth, it seems to melt away.

As the heat and spice crescendo, bite after bite, you might look for relief in a square of blackened onion or green pepper -- but they offer their own harsh remedy. Like taking a break from the banya's hot plunge in order to get flogged with birch branches, the jarring sting of the onion, the waxy vegetal crunch of the pepper, leave you tingling and strangely refreshed.

Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant: 3132 Vicente (at 42nd Ave.), 564-3481.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square
42: Nopalito's quesadilla roja
41: Croissant from Sandbox Bakery
40: Cultured's burdock kasu-zuke pickles
39: Sticky chewy chocolate ice cream at Swensen's
38: Maverick's warm Brussels sprouts with slow-cooked egg
37: Roast chicken from Limón Rotisserie
36: Seven Hills' raviolo uovo
35: Morning bun from Pinkie's Bakery
34: Kaw soi dok at Mandalay
33: Fatted Calf's meatloaf sandwich
32: Duck larb at Thai House Express
31: Lark Creek Steak's burger
30: Barbacco's chicken thighs with olives and almonds
29: Mow Lee's lap cheong
28: Dollar oysters at Bar Crudo
27: Fava greens from Tairwa'-Knoll Farms
26: Nopa's mussels with harissa
25: Salt-and-pepper crab at Kam Lok
24: Recchiuti Confections' caramels to the third power

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