An Interview with Peter Liu, Owner of O Mandarin Restaurant in Hartsdale
Peter Liu is among the new generation of connoisseurs of Chinese cuisine, and he has a mission: He wants guests at his O Mandarin Restaurant to enjoy authentic Chinese food in an exquisite atmosphere that conveys the complexity of Chinese cuisines within the context of his native country’s history and culture.
“When you come inside our restaurant, you’ll feel as though you’re walking into China,” says Liu. The classic feels of Chinese wood and calligraphy panels, Ming Dynasty style furniture and display pieces that range from antiques to rustic items you’d find in old country villages and homes create an immersive experience. “People realize they are coming to enjoy our culture along with nice dishes. This is what I want to provide to American people.”
Liu came to the United States to attend college, obtained a degree in hotel management, and has worked in the restaurant business for the past 15 years. O Mandarin—the “O” stands for Original—opened in April 2017. Chef Eric Gao, a protégé of the esteemed chef Peter Chang, is the son of a Chinese chef: He worked previously in well-established Los Angeles restaurants, and will be competing in Chopped this season. Like Liu, Gao has traveled extensively, and so their deep knowledge of Chinese cuisine is rooted in multiple perspectives, beginning with their early years in China.
Authentic Dishes, Prepared Using Traditional Methods and Ingredients
The O Mandarin menu features cuisine from diverse regions of China, under the big umbrella of Mandarin. “I’m from Shanghai, where we eat a lot of dumplings, Lotus Root with sticky rice, and even Mandarin ribs. Those are the kinds of foods made in my original town,” says Liu. “Sichuan style chefs use a lot of spices and their specialty is meat dishes.”
“At O Mandarin, one of our specialties is authentic Peking Duck and we do the whole process here ourselves. A lot of restaurants use roasted ducks and buns, but that’s not Peking Duck. It takes at least 24 hours from the beginning—we blow air in to dry it for at least eight hours, roast it and make the crepes from scratch here in the restaurant,” he adds. “It takes a lot of staff hours to make it right.”
Many Mandarin dishes from the northern and inland regions are flour-based, like noodles, and oven-baked. Cantonese style, from the southern parts of Southeast Asia and China, is lighter, emphasizing fresh seafood and lighter vegetables, as compared to Mandarin, which uses more spices and river fish and river shrimp. Both have dim sum, but the Cantonese cooks use more rice and a flour-steamed, lighter version of the bite-sized favorites. Besides Peking Duck and Smoked Duck Crispy Buns specialties, other menu highlights include Dan Dan Noodle, Chongqing Chili Chicken, Sichuan Chili Oil Stew with fish or beef, Yu Xiang Pork, Shanghai Spring Rolls and Wild Peppercorn & Wood-ear Mushrooms with fermented chili.
O Mandarin is situated next to H Mart, a busy and popular Asian market, and the location has been beneficial. “We do attract an Asian clientele, but 80% of our customers are American. They come here on a weekly basis and bring their friends. On weekends, we have a policy of reservations for four or more because Chinese cuisine is about ‘family style.’ Two people order two dishes and can have a good time but a group of four or five people has the chance to try four or five dishes. We encourage people to have an open mind and to come here to enjoy something different, a different ambience.”
New Plans For The New Year
“We eat this food from our first days when growing up, so we know how it is supposed to taste from a Chinese perspective, but we also want to go in some different directions—perhaps more street food or Chinese tapas. We do the noodle well—not ramen, like the Japanese, which I love too, but traditional Chinese noodles,” says Liu.
During the Chinese New Year in February, O Mandarin will celebrate for 15 days, encouraging big family gatherings for large meals as is traditional in China. In the spring, Liu will host a series of restaurant events featuring well-known visiting chefs from China. “They will prepare a special menu,” says Liu. “I want to build a bridge from China to America. Last October, I invited top chefs to cook regional Mandarin foods here for about two weeks.”
Liu will open a new restaurant this spring in Hicksville, Long Island, and has set his sights on additional locations to open in New York City. “In the future, I’d like to have my own gardens, so we can grow our own Asian vegetables and create a farm-to-table experience. Many chefs grow their own vegetables in China but there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that here. It’s a very exciting idea,” he adds. “This is what we care about—not just trying to make money—but to share Asian culture and cuisine in authentic ways.”
“I travel and visit different towns to try original cuisines and cooking,” says Liu. “In the early 1990s, Italian food here in America meant pizza and one type of cuisine, but now you have Sicilian and other styles. It’s time for Americans to see Chinese culture for its diversity. Dining at O Mandarin is about the whole experience—not just the food but the whole experience—and this is what I want to provide to the American people.”
O Mandarin may be reserved for private catered parties, families and office gatherings, receptions and other special occasions. Reservations are required for parties of four or more on weekends.
O Mandarin Chinese Cuisine
361 N. Central Avenue
Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 437-9168