Full Moon is good preparation for a new era.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Maybe China taking over the world isn’t so bad, as long as our new Mandarin landlords are as nice as Nobe Shirchan and we get to eat sizzling rice soup every day.
Shirchan is part of the family of kind people that run Full Moon Mandarin Cuisine in downtown Monterey, which opened in August—and the sweetest thing this side of the orange sauce that comes with the fried prawns. (While not genetically part of the Huang family that owns the eatery, and once owned China Gourmet in Carmel, Shirchan’s “like a grandma” according to co-owner Kwan Huang.) Three Delight Sizzling Soup is the delicious opener in the No. 4 Family Dinner ($15/person, two people minimum) that was still pop-‘n’-sizzlin’ as Shirchan swung it around the corner of our booth.
The pot of rice soup ($6, $8 or $10/a la carte) was enough to reload our cups twice and then some. The three delights proved to be tender slices of chicken breast, slippery scallops and a healthy amount of perfect prawns, which floated in a clear broth with carrot fingerlings, crisp water chestnuts, snow peas, and smoky clumps of rice kernel crisps.
Full Moon’s décor features a simple elegance: booths with modern fabric patterns and plumwood tables run along the walls of the restaurant beneath colorful prints. Minimalist light fixtures dangle over booths.
Full Moon’s egg rolls ($2.50/a la carte) were good, but upstaged by the four fried prawns ($6 for six a la carte), which came two-bite big in a light and tasty wheat-flour batter. Dipped in the Nobe-sweet sauce and the sinus-expanding hot mustard, they were great.
From there our shrimp sequence continued with a robust plate of snow peas and shrimp ($10.50). The generous load of 20 shrimp heaped on top of snow peas, water chestnuts and slivers of carrot was inspiring. The white gravy-like sauce was not, coming off a little bland.
The most popular dish, however, got me hoping for a Chinese takeover all over again. The orange chicken was steaming, unsoggy and well-sauced. Should the state run out of the sizzling soup, I’ll go for a double ration.
On a weekday soon after that saw Full Moon’s tables two-thirds full, the eight lunch specials we’d ordered were ready on time and already neatly labeled and organized in a box. (We chose from a strong list of 18 take-out options, that came with a scoop of steamed rice and a basic iceberg salad.) Young Crystal Huang (helping out during spring break) processed the check quickly.
I split pork chow mein ($5.50) and garlic chicken ($6) with a colleague and also got some pot stickers ($6/for six). The garlic chicken was served with a tangy, smoky brown sauce, plenty of veggies, but this garlic hound hoped for more than just the subtle presence of garlic, coworker relations be damned.
The chow mein boasted noodles as fresh and flavorful as I’ve had. Their texture worked well with the green onion, white onion, thin carrot and equally thin pan-blackened spears of pork. The pork toothpicks, mixing in like noodles, created seamless, full-flavored bites. (The dumplings tasty, but make sure to ask for sesame sauce.)
Other colleagues returned opinions on their dishes that proved positive overall, as everyone saluted the quality and flavor. The complaints were interestingly consistent: several folks reported, as with my garlic chicken, that a kick of flavor often appeared absent.
One colleague described that dilemma more colorfully, saying: “There’s plenty of kung, but no pao!”
Further research uncovered the fact that the Huangs don’t use MSG for health reasons, which makes sense: they’re looking out for us (although the health dangers of MSG are subject to debate), even if it means sacrificing a spank of flavor. The only misstep these folks can make is one of kindness.
FULL MOON MANDARIN CUISINE 429 Alvarado St., Monterey • 333-1288 • 11am-3pm, 4:30-9:30pm. Closed Mondays.