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Gang of newbies @ Mei Long Village

Will Owen Apr 25, 2011 12:09 PM

We had more than our usual extended family doing Saturday night dinner, with the two nieces joining the fun, and Mrs. O and I had decided that this was a good time to finally check out Mei Long Village and the fabled Pork Pump. The six of us just dropped in without having called or anything at around 7:30, and of course the large tables were all occupied. The hostess said it'd be around twenty minutes, so we resigned ourselves to around twice that, but twenty-two minutes later we had the six-top behind the front door. The nieces are both experienced and avid Chinese-food freaks, and had been studying a menu while we were waiting. Mrs. O had laid claim to the Pork Pump, her brother (probably upholding the family's French heritage) called for the Spicy Frog. Sister-in-law ordered some dumplings whose identity didn't make it across the table, while their daughters settled on Shanghai Rice Cakes and Finless Braised Eel; I ordered Sautéed Pea Shoots.

The Unknown Dumplings appeared almost immediately, and whatever they were called they were totally delicious. Pork and something, rich and juicy, wrappers very sticky on the chopsticks but tender in the mouth, and a good vinegary dipping sauce with shredded ginger.

Then came the magnificent pork shank, quivering slightly as it was set down, smothered in its rich brown sauce and garnished around the platter with lightly-cooked spinach; the server proceeded to "carve" it with a large spoon, to murmurs of appreciation. The murmurs got a bit more vocal when we pulled off pieces of the melting-soft, sticky meat, rich and delicious, but strangely enough not heavy at all. The sauce had just a touch of sweetness, and complemented both the meat and the accompanying greens perfectly. Nice when a dish lives up to its legend!

The frogs came on another big platter, chopped into bite-size chunks; these proved to be not at all spicy in any recognizable sense, very much overcooked, and hard to eat for the bone fragments. We all had to appreciate the irony of a mostly-French table finding the frogs disappointing, but in this they were alone.

We'd originally asked for the rice cake dish we'd seen on another table, with leeks and pork, but our waiter said he thought it too bland (!) and suggested the Shanghai version instead. This was definitely not bland! Not spicy - nothing we had really was - but very bold-flavored, kind of a Chinese take on good red-sauce Italian, with the chewy rice disks standing in for gnocchi. That was generally considered a solid runner-up to the pork as the star of the table.

The eels were another major hit, not as complex in range as the rice cake dish, but a great thing to eat with rice. As for the pea shoots, Mrs. O's favorite green stuff, she took one bite and pronounced them the best ever.

There are several ways in which this mostly perfect meal was unique in our combined experience. In the first place, except for the frogs and some pork fat, we finished every bite of every dish. There were no styrofoam boxes going home this time. Secondly, while we had all eaten a fair amount of food and had no interest in dessert, we didn't feel stuffed, groggy, or in need of a nap. We simply felt very well fed, in all the best senses of that term.

This, plus a glass of chablis and four bottles of Tsing Tao and the tax, came to a bit over $106, to which we added a nice tip. Highly recommended, as many of us on this Board have said before.

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Mei Long Village
301 W Valley Blvd Ste 112, San Gabriel, CA 91776

  1. raytamsgv Apr 25, 2011 02:20 PM

    Glad to hear the meal was enjoyable.

    1. ipsedixit Apr 25, 2011 02:22 PM

      Next time call ahead and get the pork rump (or pump) that requires 24 hours notice.

      It it not quite often that pork fat can be described as a transcendental experience, but that pork rump dish would be one of those times.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit
        Will Owen Apr 26, 2011 05:57 PM

        "It (is) not quite often that pork fat can be described as a transcendental experience…" Sez you! I would have liked a bit more of that magical substance that can't seem to decide whether it's meat or fat - one of the things I truly adore about pig - but the only part that didn't get eaten was the pillowy pure fat and the bones. Had we been at home I'd have found uses for those, but I just decided that this once, for the first time ever, there would be no greasy containers in the back of the car, so I waved goodbye as it left the table …

        So what exactly are the principle differences in the brined version? I can imagine several likely ones, but this was so damn good you're going to have to sell me on that one.

        This really was the most satisfying Chinese meal I've had outside of the ones in Hong Kong, and it beat a few of those.

        1. re: Will Owen
          ipsedixit Apr 26, 2011 08:06 PM

          More fatty without being more greasy or too unctuous (if that makes sense), and just a stronger porky flavor.

          Sort of like fried chicken made in peanut oil versus one made with lard.

      2. martyR Apr 25, 2011 08:45 PM

        I took someone there for the first time just the other day for the pork pump. She kept saying she couldn't believe it was pork, when you could make out what she was saying at all.

        1. c
          chezwhitey Apr 25, 2011 11:08 PM

          You should have stopped by the foot spa afterwards and called it a night! Good to hear you guys enjoyed your dishes, Mei Long is one of my favorites, their lion's head is excellent as well. Another dish they serve which is pretty new is a duck in beer sauce. Not sure if it's on the english menu yet, but you can describe it to them and I'm sure they'll know what you are talking about. I tend to prefer the smoked duck, but this dish is nice to try, a bit on the salty side, but makes for a good counter point to the pea sprouts or soy beans and bean curd sheets.

          1. q
            QualityMart Apr 27, 2011 01:05 AM

            Phew ... the subject line scared me there for a minute. I thought this was going to be a complaint about a brand new staff there and a horrible visit!

            1 Reply
            1. re: QualityMart
              Peripatetic Apr 27, 2011 02:53 AM

              Ditto that!

            2. w
              will47 Apr 27, 2011 10:50 AM

              "We'd originally asked for the rice cake dish we'd seen on another table, with leeks and pork, but our waiter said he thought it too bland (!) and suggested the Shanghai version instead."

              If the chao niangao had green stuff and little pork doodles in it, it was probably ji cai ("shepherd's purse") rather than jiu cai (Chinese leek). This is an herb which is used a lot in Shanghai cuisine, including in dumpling and bun fillings. I prefer it to the other style (and I'm vegetarian, so I don't even eat the pork doodles), but I would agree that it's not super strong flavored.

              I haven't been back to Mei Long Zhen for a while, but the last couple of experiences did make me tend to agree with those who say it's going downhill.

              3 Replies
              1. re: will47
                raytamsgv Apr 27, 2011 11:09 AM

                jiu3 cai4 (韭菜) is also known as garlic chives.

                1. re: will47
                  Will Owen Apr 27, 2011 12:08 PM

                  Okay, it's on my "definite" list for next time. And there will be a next time; if this place has gone downhill, it must have been really transcendental before. I did heed the warning about dry or overcooked fish (except the braised fish tail, and of course those eels), and probably should have known to warn bro-in-law off the frogs, but I didn't know how they'd be cooked.

                  1. re: Will Owen
                    w
                    will47 Apr 27, 2011 12:29 PM

                    You might also consider checking out Shanghai Yu Yuan and Shanghai Xiao Chi.

                2. s
                  sushigirlie Apr 27, 2011 08:28 PM

                  This is one of my go-to restaurants in the SGV. I also like Shanghai Restaurant in the same genre.

                  1. Dommy Apr 28, 2011 09:50 AM

                    Although it's more along the Panda Express spectrum... my absolute FAVORITE dish there is their Jade Shrimp... Yum...yum...

                    --Dommy!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Dommy
                      ipsedixit Apr 28, 2011 07:58 PM

                      Why is it in the Panda Express spectrum? It's quite difficult to do that dish well, and while MLV doesn't always hit the notes correctly (too bland and tasteless), it does a pretty good job most of the time.

                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        Dommy Apr 28, 2011 08:29 PM

                        Maybe it's just my experience of growing up surrounded by the $1 chinese food places where it was a 'premium dish'. LOL! In fact before MLV my favorite version was a stripmall place in El Segundo... the ones I grew up eating in 'authentic' SGV Places would always put too much black bean paste... bleh... Which is why you are absolutely right, it's HARD to get a really excellent one (I guess I've been look at MLV where each one I've had has been great!)

                        Best!

                        --Dommy!

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