[My written composition class is easily one of my most favorite classes of all my high school years. I am not a naturally gifted writer, nor have I ever been the kind of person whose words just flowed out from the tip of the pen. But this class has been showing me that not only do I have potential as a writer, but that writing can also be enjoyable. Yes, enjoyable. For me, writing is the most enjoyable when the topic is something I can immerse myself in with ease. Opinions, thoughts, and criticism arise the most naturally while I am writing about something I don't have to give effort to explore wholeheartedly. This following essay is my proudest piece of writing (so far), and it happened to be about food. While the restaurant wasn't immaculate, I had so much fun writing this essay. I hope that you will enjoy reading it!]
As soon as I walked into Sweet Mango, the rich aromas that enveloped the restaurant beckoned me in. With only a few tables occupied, a quiet hum of conversations could be heard. At a nearby table, diners had just been served a dish of fried rice overﬂowing from a hollowed out pineapple half. All of these enticing sounds, aromas and sights heightened my expectation for a delectable and unique meal at Sweet Mango. Located in Willow Glen, this restaurant is one of few in the Bay Area to serve Chinese and Burmese food. Chinese restaurants are commonplace, but Burmese food, a blend of Chinese, Indian, and Thai cuisines, is not as well known. This particular Chinese Burmese restaurant was opened with the intention of differing from the owners’ first restaurant, Taiwan Restaurant, which, as its name suggests, serves only Chinese food. Each entrée is reasonably priced within a range of seven to eleven dollars, allowing me and my group to try a vast variety of dishes. As the evening passed, the restaurant filled out with both families and couples, but service was impeccable throughout our entire meal. Sweet Mango was an inconsistent but worthwhile cultural and culinary experience that, despite the lacking ambiance, left memories of intensely rich, flavorful, and gratifying dishes.
Driving up to Sweet Mango, I was surprised by the shabbiness of the restaurant’s exterior: the door needed a wash, the trim was forest green and rusty orange, and the walls were beige tiles. The inside appeared to be much more sophisticated at first glance, but as I paid closer attention to the décor, I noticed that they did not mesh and complement one another. Walls a shade of luminous orange initially appeared to be eccentric, but clashed with the formal white table cloth and slightly dimmed lighting. The walls were adorned with painted portraits of women in traditional Burmese or Chinese clothing, which added a unique cultural touch. The tables were set up awkwardly and inelegantly; floral plates that had little relevance to the restaurant were at each seat, along with bright coral napkins that competed with the flashy walls. Some of the tables had distractingly large flowers that would prevent diners from seeing one another. Each component that made up the room could have been stunning in another setting; in Sweet Mango, the various eye-catching elements competed for attention. Aesthetically, the interior of Sweet Mango was sub par due to the overwhelming complexity, but the ambience was heightened by other factors. Although we could not see the kitchen from where we were sitting, enticing aromas wafted to our table, preparing us for our meal. I could almost imagine the fragrant and flavorful dishes that would soon be arriving to our table as I breathed in the wisps of spices and savoriness that could be detected in the air. Annie D., a Yelp Elite stated in her review, “The workers were very pleasant and quick to service,” and indeed they were – the friendly waitresses were prompt without seeming overbearing. Despite the noisy decorations, my anticipation for the food that would soon arrive increased because of the enchanting fragrances that filled the air.
After sampling various dishes at Sweet Mango, my final verdict was that everything we ate was either a hit or miss. For our appetizer, my group and I ordered the tea leaf salad, per the recommendation of the majority of Yelp reviewers. I had been apprehensive about a salad seasoned with a dressing made of tea leaves, but the sapidity of the Burma-imported leaves paired beautifully with the intriguing amalgamation of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, fried onion and garlic, peanuts, and sesame seeds. This salad was an unusual yet pleasant dish with an exciting mix of textures and flavors that drew me into the rest of the meal that was ahead of me. The coconut chicken curry was, in my opinion, one of the best dishes we tried, while the same cannot be said about the pad thai. I have tried multiple curries in my life, but Sweet Mango’s version was one of the most satisfying. Appearance wise, I was not impressed. Although the creativity one can have in plating curry is limited, the monotonously yellow dish certainly could have benefitted from some variety in color, in the form of a minced green herb or some vibrant carrots. However, its redeeming quality, the flavor, was enough to compensate for what it lacked visually. The amount of coconut flavor was perfectly balanced: it was subtle without being hidden by the spices. Coconut milk’s creaminess lent to the richness of the curry, enhancing its flavor and overall appeal. I was unable to detect even the slightest amount of heat, but the harmonious mix of spices gave the curry depth and uniqueness.Thinly sliced chicken and potatoes, although added too copiously, gave the dish substance and heartiness. I undoubtedly enjoyed the curry, but had the exact opposite experience with the pad thai. Like the curry, the pad thai was unappealing at first glance. The noodles, tofu, and chopped peanuts all had the same shade of brown, and a few random sprigs of green onions were dispersed throughout. A slice of lemon added a random pop of color that did little to help the pad thai’s dull appearance. Parched and flavorless, the noodles could have had better flavor and texture with more sauce. The little seasoning that could be tasted was unpalatable: odd hints of soy sauce and ketchup convinced me to steer clear of this dish. This was my first time trying pad thai, but I was unfortunately given a poor impression of it by Sweet Mango’s offensive rendition. Other forgettable dishes included the fried rice, garlic eggplant, and fried banana with coconut ice cream. I left Sweet Mango slightly disappointed by these unimpressive dishes, but also satisfied with the curry and other interesting dishes I had tried that night.
I left Sweet Mango with mixed feelings: I found that there were certain dishes that were worth returning for, but others erred on the side of distasteful. While the service was flawless, the obnoxious interior of the restaurant contributed to the substandard ambiance. The most delicious of entrées were rich in flavor and texture. The seasonings were reminiscent of Chinese or Thai food at times, but each unique variety assured me that this was, in fact, a Chinese Burmese restaurant. Select dishes, such as the garlic eggplant, were synonymous with those served at other Chinese restaurants, or even Panda Express. Too greasy, too trite, or too unbalanced, these dishes were not enough to taint my overall opinion of Sweet Mango, but they were certainly disappointing. The décor of the restaurant was much too flashy, detracting from the peacefulness of the meal. Even Chipotle’s ambiance is more appropriate for what is served there in comparison to Sweet Mango’s blaring atmosphere. On a cold winter evening, I can imagine craving a serving of Sweet Mango’s flavorful and luscious curry, which brings warmth in the same way a bowl of chicken noodle soup does. However, because Sweet Mango did not deliver well in all categories, the search for dining spots with the perfect balance of everything a restaurant should have – excellent service, delectable food, and an alluring setting – will continue.