Upscale downtown dim sum "Upscale" and "Chinese restaurant" don't often appear together, but with The Mandalay, it fits.
Located downtown on Alakea in the old Yong Sing location (everyone laments the loss of those trademark Chinese gates), The Mandalay is the creation of the culinary minds behind the old Eastern Garden. But they've taken their good food and served it up in an impressive wrapper. The striking, but not flashy, decor seems almost out of place, with the financial district just down the block and Chinatown a few bus stops away.
The draw is the dim sum, and the twist is this: rather than picking items from carts that rotate around the restaurant -- a system that sometimes leaves some diners stranded and some food items a little long in the tooth -- you mark your choices on a form that will give you SAT flashbacks. You're aided with a nice photo sheet with pictures of each dim sum, for those (like most people) who are used to choosing with their eyes rather than their limited Chinese vocabulary. Your choices are then prepared fresh in the kitchen and delivered to your table.
Frankly, dim sum is dim sum to me, but I'm told it's pretty good here. Since it's made to order, I can see why it might be.
We visited their opening week, and decided to order off the menu. Everything looked great, and what we had was delicious. Dried scallop fried rice with egg whites, clams with black bean sauce, and peppersalt shrimp. Those first two dishes made a particularly wonderful pair.
The Mandalay may also turn out to be a good spot for people watching. Well over a handful of Honolulu's movers and shakers were spotted at nearby tables when we were there.
Apart from "upscale" service speeds (i.e. a little long for a typical downtown lunch), the only other downside are the slightly high prices. You're paying for a great looking restaurant. But if you want Chinese food but without "traditional" level of service and decor you'd get at a hole in the wall a few blocks away, The Mandalay is a great addition to the downtown dining scene.