The Scene’s Moving East, You Say?

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My relationship with Sacramento spans the past 5 years or so. It’s been an on-again, off-again relationship as various commitments have taken me away and redelivered me to this delta town. Each time I return, of course, I have to check with friends about the new see-and-be-seens. Chops begat Spataro. Spataro, I’ve been told, is sooo last summer. Spataro begat The Park (it’s so now it has its own website, can you believe it) and its various culinary venues. So when my friend suggested we meet for lunch at Ma Jong’s – I thought, great! time to check this new hot spot on the corner of 15th and L out, see what’s what.

Ma Jong’s, billed as contemporary Asian cuisine, is a cafeteria style walk-up with family-style seating, It’s a spacious, welcoming interior. Lots of light. Nice flow. Excellent vibe – owing in large part to the current legislative recess which affords dozens of staffers the luxury of getting out in daylight and socializing at lunchtime like normal people.

The menu is alright. I wouldn’t say its a highly original epicurean undertaking, but rather an exercise in upper-class Asian comfort food – as interpreted in the American market, at any rate. The day’s heat led me to opt for something lighter – the very unoriginal, non-remarkable, but still good Ma’s Chinese Chicken Salad.

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The lettuce was fresh and the wanton’s crispy. The dressing – which I requested less of than whatever they normally provide (I hate sodden greens) – was fine. Again, not particularly noteworthy, but don’t mistake that as a negative comment. It was what you’d usually want if you wanted a Chinese Chicken Salad. Which is a good thing.

The small stack of square, white plates (along with the long, family-style tables) implies a share-and-share-alike philosophy, though my friend and I opted for our own dishes. He liked his kung pao chicken, which looked tasty from my vantage point (I don’t do spicy, as a general rule). We shared an appetizer – some delicious, likely highly caloric crab and cream cheese wontons that practically floated off the plate and into our mouths – which might have been more fun had it come, like, before the food.

Timing is where Ma Jong’s lost points today. My salad arrived nearly 15 minutes before my friend’s hot entree. I can appreciate that salads come together faster, but just hold it in the back. The wontons and his kung pao chicken came at the same time – long after we got bored staring at my mandarin orange garnished pile of greens. The place was busy, but not overwhelmed and we purposefully waited until after the traditional noon rush.

Over all, Ma Jong’s atmosphere and familiar dishes earn it one and a half chopsticks for comfort and what I’m guessing will be long term reliability. For those in the Capitol, the location seals its fate as a popular destination.

At least until the development across the street gets going, I’m sure . . . .

Ma Jong’s; 1116 15th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; 916-492-1960

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