Fine form and function at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  March 4, 2009
2.0 2.0 Stars

My favorite entrée was "Corn-Fed Grilled Chicken 'Tandoori' " ($24). The increasingly popular Statler cut (a boned breast with the first wing section still attached) was topped off with an excellent crust of Indian spices. It's wonderfully juicy and delicious — the ability to grill boned breasts well is the sign of a skilled chef. The accompanying naan bread has the same soft quality as the basket breads, so it is more like a grilled pita than the real Indian tandoori breads. But the yogurt-cucumber raita, somewhere between a sauce and a dip, has a complementary spice flavor, as well as assorted vegetables in fine dice. This is the best kind of fusion, where the French technique just refines the ancient essence of the dish.

"Roasted Duck & Pancake" ($23) arouses the Peking-duck centers of the brain, even if the dish has been modified. Instead of crisp duck skin and hoisin flavors, you get a deep duck-meat flavor from two strips of breast with just a wisp of basted hoisin. Great eating, but not Peking duck. The pancakes are wrapped around buckwheat, so they, too, are a surprise (but not a bad one). Grilled prime strip loin ($31), the most expensive entrée, is also a best buy, given that you get four beautifully made cylinders of superb fillet beef with a classic béarnaise sauce, plus a big dish of exquisite French fries. A special on swordfish ($29) brought chunks of meaty fish in a seafood broth, with a ragout of autumn vegetables ($6/à la carte). Many entrées don't come with side dishes, so you may want to select some from the list. Of those available, my favorites were "Spinach Natural" ($6; the other choice is slightly creamy), a fine portion of buttery spinach, and "MO'c & Cheese" ($5), which is influenced by fondue, in that the cheese part is Swiss and crème frâiche. It still will fool kids, and your inner child, as comfort food.

The wine list is extensive and expensive (but fairly priced on ratio to retail). Fifteen-dollar glasses of wine have to be really superb, and the closest I tried was the 2005 Chateau Louvie St. Emilion ($15/$50 bottle), listed as a merlot, which 80 percent of it is. You get more oak — here a smoky flavor more than vanilla — at these prices, but I'd like more structure, even in a merlot-based wine. An over-refined pinot grigio was nondescript; don't even try that one. Coffee is served both regular ($6) and in French press ($9); tea is served in iron pots ($6). All of this should guarantee freshness, but my French-press coffee and both an Assam and a green tea seemed weak; others admired the flavors of the teas.

The desserts we had were the weakest part of our dinner. Warm chocolate brownie with almond ice cream ($10) was competent, not remarkable. "Citrus Gratin" ($10) seemed like a formless trifle of beautifully peeled citrus sections in a light custard, like zabaglione, with whipped cream and an underlying toast or porous hard cake. Pistachio crème brélée ($10) had little distinctive flavor, though the presentation — similar to a slice of tiramisu, with a layer of pastry on the bottom — was provocative. An order for apple pie ($10) was lost, but our complementary dessert of chocolate truffles, tiny raspberry cookies, and fruit jellies was delightful.

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