Made with love

Family-run restaurant embraces small-town feel of Farmington...

Posted: March 9, 2014 at 7 a.m.

Mandalay Asian Cuisine serves popular Chinese and Thai dishes, as well as light American entrees such as steamed salmon stuffed with shrimp and crab meat, as shown by Toua Xiong.

It didn't take long for Lue and Katherine Xiong to feel at home in Northwest Arkansas.

After working in the restaurant and hospitality sector for more than 20 years in places such as Detroit and Atlanta, Katherine stated she is happy to be where they are now.

Their previous businesses were located in fast-paced large cities and mostly served business lunch crowds that wanted to get in, get fed and get back to work.

"Now that we found this, it is our home... It's almost like I'm going back to my own country where everybody knows everybody's name. That's when I told my husband I think this is a good place for us."

Before moving to the area, the couple visited Katherine's uncle, who owns Rick's Iron Skillet in Fayetteville. They drove around the bustling streets of Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville looking for a potential location to open a restaurant, but it was Farmington that won them over.

"We drove by and saw this building was vacant. I knew I wanted something different than the fast-paced city life. It's a small town, being here is exactly what I needed," she said.

They opened Mandalay Asian Cuisine in August 2012 and have been there since.

The restaurant serves a variety of Chinese and Thai dishes, and also has a sushi bar and a few American-style dishes. The salmon, steak and chicken dinners are intentionally prepared for customers who don't want Asian-style cuisine or who are looking for a healthy alternative.

There is a grilled ribeye rubbed with spicy herbs and served with red potatoes and sauteed onions and bell peppers. The salmon is stuffed with shrimp and crab meat, then steamed and served with seasoned red potatoes, broccoli and carrots. The chicken is a marinated, boneless chicken breast served with mashed potatoes, squash and broccoli.

The salad selections also present alternatives to the stir-fry, noodle or curry dishes.

There is a house salad made with iceburg lettuce, a mixed green salad with grilled chicken and the Mandalay Shrimp Salad that has lightly breaded shrimp served on mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, crispy noodles and housemade sesame dressing.

"We make everything from scratch -- sauces, handmade coconut ice cream, spring rolls, soup -- and we do it all by hand," Xiong said.

The husband-and-wife team has varied experience in southeast Asian cuisine. Lue's experience is in Chinese-style cooking, whereas Katherine's is more Thai focused.

Katherine received professional instruction from an experienced Thai chef about different styles, methods and spices. She then adapted those basic principles to suit her own, personal taste. She is very dedicated to the experience of food, in both how it is prepared and as a dining experience.

"This is my passion, and serving the best to my customers is my goal," she said. "I'm passionate about trying to make it right so you can taste all the flavors and know it is made with intention and love."

She added that it is also a joy for her to work together with her husband and son. The restaurant is operated completely by the Xiong family, and they are there from open to close each day.

Customers from out of town have asked to open a second location, but Katherine stated that she wouldn't be able to be in two places at once.

"I would want to maintain the personal touch and involvement. I think that is what makes the difference."

The Farmington location is on U.S. 62, just east of Arvest Bank. On and off-site catering are available, and the restaurant can be reserved for private events of up to 70 people.

"I know that is inconvenient for my regular customers, but I also want people to enjoy the place, just them and their family to come together. This is the perfect place, it's beautiful and it's not too far from Fayetteville," Xiong said.

Her previous experience with resorts and event coordination is an added benefit to guests who want to have flowers arrangements or other special requests as part of their event. The restaurant recently hosted a wedding reception, and the groom remarked it was one of the best parts of the wedding.

Even when it isn't a special occasion, the owners want to make each person feel welcome and comfortable. That includes service and extends to the preparation of the food.

"If you are [unsure about a dish], you can try it and if you don't like it I won't charge you for it. If you like it, you can order it again next time and tell your friends about it. If you don't like it then tell me straight out and I'll take it off the tab," Xiong said.

"Of course, if you are breathing you need to make money, but the restaurant is my passion and you got to love it to do it," she added.

The family is committed to cooking great meals for people. The personal connections made with the community and the testimonials from the customers are very important to their business.

For example, a local doctor comes several times a week. He told Katherine that he can tell she cares about her food, that there is still a crunch to the vegetables and 'it's like it is cooked to perfection just for me.' "

"Business can be slow, especially during the week, but we've been here only 18 months and I think that by doing this well I will keep on my feet," adding, "If the local, regular customers keep coming, I will make it."

Mandalay Asian Cuisine is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. More information is available by calling (479) 267-9494 or on Facebook.

NAN Dining Guide Cover on 03/09/2014

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