Malls are not known for innovative, chef-driven restaurants. Texas isn’t know for progressivism and art rock, but Austin is located there. There are exceptions to every rule.
Wild Mango, an Asian fusion restaurant, is located in Great Northern Mall, with an entrance directly from the parking lot. The décor is warm and opulent, which was especially welcome as we were walking in on the evening of the first real snowstorm of the season. The space is large, with multiple rooms and very comfortable seating. There were pillows up against the chair I sat in, which almost felt like a couch.
One probably shouldn’t wear a logo t-shirt here, but the clientele (including us) were more dressed down than one would expect based on the surroundings: a sweater and jeans would be fine.
We were given an array of menus including one for drinks (beer, wine and cocktails) and a combination kids / vegetarian menu for Jonathan. Our server was formal but friendly, as was the case during our last visit a few months ago.
Sarah started with a Jasmine tea, which came in a formal tea service. Jonathan had an iced mango tea, and I opted for the Derby Rose, a combination of Jim Beam, prosecco, strawberry and basil. All of the flavors came through really nicely: wine, woody bourbon, and fragrant fruit and herbs. The finish was crisp, with little if any sweetness beyond the core ingredients.
We ordered chicken potstickers to start, but before we got these we were given an amuse bouche of “pizza soup.” It was a small teacup of tomato soup topped with basil foam with a piece of Chinese sausage speared through a 1/4 inch breadstick across the top. The aroma was freshly baked pizza, and even the soup itself without the breadstick had a breadiness. The sausage was good, too, with subtle spicing, probably lemongrass. The experience was Willy-Wonka-esque, in a good way.
Our potstickers ($6) came in a row on a platter. They were light and refreshing with a distinct lemongrass flavor and a great finish from the quick pickled cucumbers underneath them.
Sarah ordered the Szechwan Shrimp ($14). large tiger shrimp with a perfectly pungent black bean sauce underneath. The shrimp were fresh, juicy and satisfying. Sarah ordered Honey Sesame Chicken ($14) at her last visit, which was fragrant, not too sweet and on the whole far beyond what one typically gets at a Chinese restaurant. The portion was also huge.
I had the five spice roast duck ($20). The duck reminded me of beef tenderloin, lean but juicy, and with a distinct aromatic element of clove, cinnamon and anise. I was perhaps more impressed with the sides, japanese eggplant and other vegetables in black bean sauce along with light, flavorful sweet potatoes. On a previous visit I had the Chicken Trio ($16), an innovative mix of chicken preparations that included a pesto chicken mozzarella “cheesecake”–with many layers of flavors as well as ingredients–and a more traditional lemongrass chicken breast. It was outstanding.
The beer list at Wild Mango is decent but not great. I had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale this time around, and the crispness was a lot like an Asian Lager. There are always a couple Great Lakes available as well.
For dinner Jonathan had the baby calamari ($7–from the appetizer menu) and loved it. It was barely breaded at all with just a light layer of cornstarch and chilies. I have never had more flavorful, perfectly cooked calamari in my life. Sarah has never liked calamari before but really enjoyed her bite.
Our wait times between courses were minimal, but long enough to know that our dishes were freshly prepared. Our waiter was knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Each time we visit Wild Mango–this time on a Friday, last time Saturday–we are at a loss as to why it’ss not packed. Chef / owner Jia Wei is serving some of the most tasty, innovative food in the Cleveland area at prices far below what one might expect.