Moo Shoo Muslim

Sister Jamillah returns with Mas Islamic Chinese Restaurant

So you're angry about those Mohammed cartoons—angry at newspapers for insulting the Prophet, pissed off at Muslims for not taking blasphemy in stride, annoyed that none of the 12 cartoons originally published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten were actually funny. Relax. Breathe. Time to break bread. Time to visit the recently opened Mas' Islamic Chinese Restaurant in Anaheim.

Here is the Bread of Ages: crunchy, multilayered, stuffed with green onions, topped with so many sesame seeds the crust shines like armor. It's as large as a tire axle, but yummier: toasty, yeasty, a prime soaker of all the sauces and meats that follow in a gluttonous experience par none.

The sesame bread is the trademark dish of Jamillah Mas, a pioneer in Orange County's dining world. She introduced Islamic Chinese cuisine—a diet heavy on thick noodles, fiery spices and bountiful meat dishes—to the county when she opened her namesake Jamillah Garden in Tustin during the mid-1990s. Her empire indirectly expanded two years ago, when former Jamillah Garden workers opened Lotus Chinese Eatery in Huntington Beach. But Sister Jamillah has snatched back the county's Islamic Chinese crown with Mas', and Orange County's equally ravenous Muslim and Chinese communities (and a couple of kaffirs here and there) are lining up.

Bread of ages. Photo by Matt Otto
Bread of ages. Photo by Matt Otto

Unlike Jamillah and Lotus Chinese Eatery, Mas' architecture is distinctly Muslim. There are a couple of Chinese elements in the form of bamboo stalks and vases, but everything else is as gorgeous as the Alhambra. Stellate window patterns and a large mosque dome distinguish the restaurant from its fellow tenants in a industrial-park stretch of Orangethorpe Avenue. Inside are tiled floors, richly dark-wooded (almost burgundy) furniture, a streaming water fountain and your choice of intimate booths or lazy Susan-clad, 10-seater family tables.

Take a hint from those tables—dine with as many people as possible. I usually come with my family—Dad eats with his mouth open, Mom steals recipes and my sister, the runt that she is, barely eats. Family fun, but not much in terms of eaters. So the last time I visited, I arrived with about a dozen Weeklings, all of us famished after a day of tomfoolery.

Move aside, Erin Smith, here comes the appetizers: those magnificent sesame breads (there's a thinner kind perfect for the younglings), chicken wrapped in foil and touched with rosemary, hot-and-sour soup heavy with pungent 'shrooms, and chicken cream corn soup so sweet and soft you want to pour it over pancakes. Stop being racist, Gustavo Arellano, and chopstick through the beef. The sizzling black-pepper beef came steaming and scrumptious—truth in titles. Another type of beef, spruced up with black mushrooms and snappy bamboo shoots, was good but overshadowed by the Weeklings' love for tender beef paired with sharp green onion. We only ordered one poultry dish, the chicken curry, but Ellen Griley finished it long before it passed my way; I could only soak up a bit of the sweet curry sauce with that amazing sesame bread. Praise be to Allah that we ordered two servings of the honey walnut shrimp, shiny, curled things as sugary as candy and served over chilled cucumbers. Vegetarians, meanwhile, heaped extra servings of garlic-sautéed asparagus, string beans laced with dried shrimp and eggy vegetable moo-shu dough-sliced chow mein on their plates.

After about an hour or so of trading plates, fighting over leftovers and downing pot after pot of green tea, we finally finished. Next came the requisite fortune cookies, but instead of the bland crumbles Panda Express throws in with your No. 2 special, Sister Jamilla handed out cookies that tasted like Froot Loops. "From a past misfortune, good luck will come to you," read mine. Take the fortune however you will—maybe some peace will emerge from those damn riots or newspapers will learn to respect minorities. I figure it means I'll get the chicken curry next time.

MAS' ISLAMIC CHINESE RESTAURANT, 601 E. ORANGETHORPE AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 446-9553. OPEN MON.-THURS., 11 A.M.-9:30 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., 11 A.M.-10:30 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $15-$35, EXCLUDING DRINKS. NO ALCOHOL—THAT'S HARAM.

 
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