Philip Chiang, son of Cecilia Chiang of the Mandarin restaurants in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, always wanted a place of his own--a cafe that he would conceive and design. It was time, he thought, to introduce Californians to a new form of Chinese food, different from the usual egg rolls and sweet-and-sour pork. "I wanted to serve something light in a casual style," Chiang says.
The beautiful, small plates of food served much like dim sum , which had greatly impressed him during a visit to Taiwan, seemed perfectly suited. And that is what you get at Mandarette, Chiang's personal signature cafes in Los Angeles and Newport Beach.
There are dishes such as the curry turnovers shown here, and onion pancakes, which so resemble tortillas they might be considered their first cousins. A plate of green beans comes flavored with ginger. And among the more substantial dishes (for which there is still a heavy demand) are rock cod, steamed or baked with chiles, and roast duck, cooked with curried vegetables. "But they are light things that almost always are steamed or baked. Deep frying is avoided," Chiang says.
Chinese flavors mingle with Japanese, an influence, according to Chiang, that stems from the 14 years he spent in Japan after his family fled Shanghai at the close of World War II. "My taste and visual senses were definitely influenced by my stay in Japan," says Chiang, who later studied architectural design and architecture at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and worked as a graphic designer for the record industry for seven years before joining the restaurant business. The Mandarettes, too, are understated and simple--almost Japanese in their starkness and design.
You'll find the curry turnovers fun to make, but don't be fooled by their simple appearance. The two layers of dough--one softer than the other--help produce flakiness. If you would rather not make your own dough, however, you can use powdered, packaged pie mix, adding a tablespoon or two of curry powder. The result will be close, if not quite authentic. The turnovers, Chiang suggests, are perfect little snacks or appetizers served with . . . Chinese beer, of course. MANDARETTE'S CHINESE CHICKEN CURRY TURNOVERS
1/2 onion, chopped
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry Sherry
teaspoon sesame oil
1 small egg, slightly beaten
Place 2 tablespoons chicken stock and 1 tablespoon peanut oil in wok or skillet. Heat until hot. Add onion and stir-fry until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
In a separate pan, heat -cup chicken stock and 1 tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken. Stir-fry over high heat until chicken is pale gold in color. Reduce heat and add curry powder, soy sauce, salt, Sherry and sesame oil. Stir-fry 30 seconds. Stir in onion mixture. Remove from heat and cool. Drain off excess liquid. Chill in refrigerator.
Prepare Water Dough and Oil Dough and divide each into 4 equal portions. Place on floured board. Roll Water Dough with rolling pin to about 3/16-inch thickness. Pat Oil Dough over Water Dough (Oil Dough will be much softer than Water Dough). Roll with well-floured rolling pin to about 1/8-inch thick. Using 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out 6 to 8 circles of dough for each portion.
Spoon 1 tablespoon chicken mixture on each 3-inch circle of dough. Brush edges with beaten egg. Fold in half. Pinch edges together within -inch of rim. Press fork tines around edges. Place neatly on greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Brush tops with beaten egg (do not soak) and bake 10 minutes longer. Makes 24 to 32 turnovers.
Note: Turnovers may be reheated or frozen. Water Dough
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 cup water, about
6 tablespoons lard
Blend flour and curry powder in a bowl. Work in lard and mix in water, working quickly and lightly, until a smooth dough is formed. Shape into a ball, flour lightly and cover with clean cloth. Oil Dough
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup lard
Blend flour and curry powder in a bowl. Work in lard until a soft dough is formed. PRODUCED BY ROBIN TUCKER
FOOD STYLIST: JANET MILLER