Among the elite Chinese epicures in this region, there’s Margaret Kuo, Susanna Foo and Han Dynasty’s Han Chiang. We can now add Song Li to that list. And while it might seem unusual to name the head of a medical testing lab as one of the hottest new restaurateurs around, Li’s investment in Exton’s Mama Wong demonstrates otherwise.
Behind an unassuming storefront in the Shops at Eagleview the chairman and CEO of Frontage Laboratories is backing some truly exceptional Asian cuisine. To capture the complex culinary essence of the Szechuan region, Li has turned to Hongbin Luo, who brings vivid flavor profiles to everything on Mama Wong’s menu.
Start with dim sum. The Shanghai Soup Pork Dumplings are tender and delicate, each filled with a fortifying gush of broth. Also be sure to order a few of the “Zesty Small Platters,” including cold apps, like crispy cucumber salad or, for the more adventurous, shredded beef tripe in chili sauce.
A native of Chengdu, China, manager Christina Chen is typically on hand to help the uninitiated negotiate the menu’s multi-layered nuances. If not for Chen’s assurance I would’ve never dared to try the spicy green bean—long, fat, rectangular noodles made from glutinous jelly and bean powder, then doused in a fiery, peanut-studded black bean-chili sauce. She was spot-on—the jiggly dish was extremely satisfying.
Such expert guidance is sometimes necessary, as Mama Wong’s vast menu is unconventional in spots. Griddled pork intestines, boiled lamb and stir-fried pig kidney all make an appearance. But there’s also plenty of the tried-and-true—and even standards like General Tso’s Chicken are exceptional. Another highlight is the flavorful tea-smoked duck—crispy on the outside and incredibly tender inside.
Thoughtful vegetarian dishes include the mapo tofu—silken cubes of bean curd swimming in a peppery deep-orange broth. It imparts heat, though not in the extreme. Tote along a bottle at this BYOB, which is modest yet attractive, thanks to a bevy of suspended lacquered Chinese lanterns. Just be sure to bring something that can stand up to—or contrast with—the lip-tingling hot oils and chili in many Mama Wong dishes. The restaurant’s citron honey tea (cold or hot) pleasantly offsets some of the scorch.