Encouragement to find lesser-known places in the Twin Cities led me to, in typical-rebellious-adolescent fashion (well, not really), head out of Minneapolis and into the south suburbs. Aside from Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, the south suburbs aren’t really known for Asian cuisine. Case in point: I searched Google Maps first with “asian restaurants,” but an initial search yielded Leeann Chin and…Hooters.
Not to be discouraged, I called someone else who lived around there. Might they know of a Asian restaurant? She did, and to boot, added that it wasn’t too bad. It was somewhere…in Savage, but she didn’t remember the name. I searched Google Maps again. A detailed “Chinese restaurant” search this time resulted in three Chinese restaurant listings. Interestingly enough, two of them bore the same address, only with different names.
My “logical skills” deducted that a Chinese restaurant would still be at that location, so
enter my drive to Ming Dragon Chinese Restaurant (4391 Highway 13 W, Savage). After some five miles past gas stations and a Famous Dave’s, I hadn’t seen it yet and was about to turn in the opposite direction of the road. Fortunately, the turn we looped into was actually the side street where Ming Dragon was located; I almost missed it as it was on a strip mall corner.
The restaurant was clean, but as it was past peak lunch hour, around 1:30, there were only about four customers inside. All of them were having the lunch buffet; they seemed relaxed as they read the newspaper. I checked the food at the buffet, but it was dry, probably because it was too late to cook for potential customers. Instead, I asked for a menu, which only came in a dinner version.
The food arrived fairly quickly. I had ordered the “fish filet with green vegetable” ($10.50) and the “mapo bean curd” (a traditional Szechuan dish with chile, ground pork, and tofu, $7.95). I was slightly apprehensive about ordering the former, not because I did not know what the green vegetable was, but because it was American broccoli. That said, the presentation was very nice, as seen above. The fish was well textured, with bits of mushroom and tiny ginger squares in the thick sauce for flavor. However, the small portion did not seem worth the $10.50. I wondered whether I was paying dinner prices for a lunch portion – not a uncommon situation at other restaurants.
As for the mapo bean curd, it never came; the kitchen had made the wrong order of tofu. This was initially disheartening because I had wanted something spicy; in addition, the waiter had shrugged the wrong order off. However, the braised tofu with shitake mushroom (also $7.95) was our replacement, and more importantly, was not a disappointment. The shitake mushrooms were large, and there was a slight taste of ginger in the garlic sauce (which was the thick enough to spoon onto rice). Furthermore, instead of having been bought pre-fried, the tofu had been deep-fried in the kitchen. (You can usually tell if tofu has been pre-fried if it tastes like a sponge. Also, store-bought tofu is usually cut into triangles.) This allowed it to remain hot at the table with a soft texture.
My summary: while I would probably not make a special drive (at risk of getting lost again) to go to Ming Dragon, if you’re in the south suburban area, it's good enough to stop by and try for yourself.