Friday, August 21, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 9: Mei Long Village

Go to any LA Foodie blog or message board, do a search on XLB or "Soupy Dumplings" and there's one restaurant name that will pop up over and over again; Mei Long Village. Mei Long Village has a reputation for the best XLB in the San Gabriel Valley. Tasting Table just did a blog on XLB and prominently mentioned Mei Long Village. With that much buzz it was only a matter of time before I checked it out myself.

Mei Long Village Ext

So that's how I found myself sitting down for lunch one Saturday ordering the "Shanghai Steamed Dumplings" and the "Crab and Pork Steamed Dumplings." First thing I noticed was that it was nearly deserted on a Saturday near noon. Of all the spots on my Dumpling Hunt, this was the least busy I'd been to. Din Tai Fung, Mama's Lu, Luscious Dumplings were all slammed by comparison. There was just one other family eating with me the entire time. Something was up. Places that are supposed to serve the best anything aren't usually dead on a Saturday at noon.

Mei Long Village Int

I received my order. First thing I should clarify is that Tasting Table gets the prices wrong. The XLB or Shanghai Dumplings aren't $5.50 for 10 they're $5.95 for 10 and they don't have crab filling in them. The pork and crab dumplings are $6.95 for 8.

First the XLB. Tasting Table says the skins are very thin and prone to breakage. Now I don't wield the most gentle set of chopsticks around but I was still able to finish all 20 of my Din Tai Fung dumplings without a single break. This batch I lost two transferring them to my soup spoon. But worse than that there were at least three dumplings that had holes in the bottom so had no soup to lose. Half my order of soupy dumplings had no soup. Not to accuse anyone, but fresh made wrappers are pliable and less apt to break. It certainly appears as if the batch I got either was left to dry out or else was made with dry (pre-made) wrappers. Neither a good sign.

Mei Long Village XLB

So how were the 5 dumplings that had soup in them. They were all right. They're weren't bad but they were hardly transcendent. To be honest I greatly prefer the dumplings at Din Tai Fung or Mama's Lu.

As for the pork and crab dumplings, they were good. If there was supposed to be soup inside then I got a completely botched batch. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were supposed to just regular dumplings. They tasted good. There was a taste of crab. But just a taste. You shouldn't go in expecting to chunks of Alaskan King mixed in with your dumplings.

Mei Long Village Crab Dumplings

All in all a pretty disappointing lunch given what I had heard. Now I will be going back to Mei Long Village for dinner. I want to try their braised pork leg (called Pork Pump on the menu)and the fish tails and a few other items. But as a lunch spot and a dumpling spot, it's off my list. And from the looks of things when I was there, I suspect I'm not the only one who's written the place off.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 8: Kang Kang Food Court

Kang Kang Food Court

It took me a few moments to spot Kang Kang Food Court in Monterey Park. That was because the sign over the top still says “Shau May Restaurant.” If you’re driving up Garfield from Garvey, look for the big yellow ABC Café. Right next to it you’ll see lettering say Shau May Restaurant but once you get to the door, the menu says Kang Kang Food Court.

Kang Kang is a Taiwanese style food court a cafeteria style eatery where you can get 1 to 4 items with steamed rice and soup. But they serve things you won’t find in Panda express. Kang Kang offers dishes from all over China. Their menu includes selections from Taiwan, Northern, Eastern and Southern China as well as several house specialties, breakfast items and number of drink options.

I decided to go with the “Shanghai Pan Fried Small Bao” from Eastern China and the “Jing Dong Meat Pie” from Northen China. I placed my order at the counter and picked one of the numbered tables to sit down at. My food arrived on plastic trays with disposable plates and a plastic spoon. I had a flashback to my high school cafeteria.

Kang Kang Int

The Shanghai Bao where a like the “Soup Dumplings” (XLB) I had sampled at Din Tai Fung or Mama’s Lu with one big exception. These were pan fried. They were gorgeous to look at. That had wonderfully golden bottoms and their white tops were sprinkled with black sesame. The only problem came when I bit into them to release the hot soup inside. The wrapper was hard and crisp even on top. It wasn’t like a dumpling or noodle at all and completely like a bao or bun. I’d almost describe it as a Beard Papa crème puff but with soup and meat inside. That posed a few challenges. For one the didn’t give me a soup bowl or a wide Chinese style soup spoon. I had to make do with a small plate and a regular sized plastic spoon. That may have just been a mistake on their part. They have a lot of soups on the menu, I’m sure they have wider spoons and actual bowls available. The second challenge the stiffer structure meant that there were often little pockets of hot soup still waiting inside even after I had chewed off a little hole and dumped out the broth onto the plate. Too bad I had so many difficulties because the taste was excellent. The crispy coating, the big nugget of pork filling inside and even the broth which I ended up squirting over the table all worked together beautifully. I’ll have to make sure I’m better equipped next time I order them.

Kang Kang Dumplings

The Jing Dong Meat Pie however was the exact opposite of the Shanghai Bao. Where the Shanghai Bao were complex and intricate, this was as simple as it gets. It was a ground meat with cabbage, green onions, and ginger wrapped in a pancake and then deep fried. The large pie was sliced into pieces and served. It sat on the plate plain and unadorned. It was fantastic. Part of the reason I loved it so much is that it triggered a taste memory for me. My family used to make our own egg rolls. We made them our own way with lots of meat and only a little bit of cabbage, not the restaurant version that was 80% vegetable. This meat pie took me back to those days. It had the crunchy wrapper and inside was pork with a big hit of ginger and a little tang from cabbage. It was simple, filling and inviting. It’s the kind of thing I could eat everyday and not get tired of.

Kang Kang Meat Pie

I rounded out the meal with a trip to Taiwan for dessert. Kang Kang Food Court serves Taiwanese Ice Slush, a simple dish of 3 or 4 items on a plate covered in a mountain of shaved ice and a squirt of sugar syrup. I went with the 3 items and picked peaches, pineapple (both from out of a can apparently) and for my third I went with the sweeten read bean. The lady behind the counter scooped everything onto a plastic plate and then proceeded to bury it under a mini mountain of shaved ice. When I got it back to my table it looked like I had the top of Pike’s Peak sitting on my tray. The first few spoonfuls were nothing but ice and it was hard not to cause some small avalanches as I dug deeper into the fruit and bean mixture on the bottom. The peaches and pineapple were a really cold fruit salad. The red beans were sweetened but still had that texture and taste to it. It was strange eating beans for dessert but I started to like it after my second bite. The dish was mostly water so it was a relief on that blistering hot summer’s day.

Kang Kang Ice

The prices were reasonable. My three course dinner cost me $15. The price range went from under $1 to $11. The place was fast and cheap but still good. Don’t go there for an elaborate banquet. But if you’re low on funds and craving a little Chinese, don’t waste those dollars on Panda Express. Check this place out instead.

Kang Kang Food Court
104 N. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 571-2727
Price Range: From under $1 to $11

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dumpling Hunt Part 7: Luscious Dumplings

There was a line outside the door when I arrived at Luscious Dumplings in San Gabriel. The small shop was located inside a strip mall off of Las Tunas Dr. Outside its doors there were already four groups ahead of me. The waiter handed me an order form and told me it would be 15 to 20 minutes. I waited and mingled with the small crowd. There was pizza parlor completely devoid of customers just next door. But nobody in the group waiting to be seated even gave it a second glance.

Luscious Dumplings Ext

I looked over the brief but flavorful menu. It featured familiar items like celery and pork dumplings, stewed pork noodle soup. There were also more adventurous items like beef tendon in hot sour sauce and fried dumplings with chive, pork, egg, and glass noodle filling. I decided on fried pork dumplings. Then I waited for my number to be called.

While I waited I glanced down at the hours of operation sign and saw what accounted for the lines. In addition to having only about 8 tables, Luscious Dumplings was only open for customers a total of 33 hours every week. Tuesday through Saturday it was open from 11AM to 2PM for lunch and then again for dinner from 5PM to 8PM. Sundays it was only open for lunch 11 t o2 and Monday it was closed. If you wandered in looking for a mid afternoon snack or a late dinner, you were out of luck.

Once I got inside the place was bustling and filled with Chinese families and friends out for Saturday lunch.

Luscious Dumplings Int

I sat down to my drink and a small dish of pickled cabbage. It was slightly sweet and had a nice tang.

Luscious Dumplings Cabbage

My dumplings came. These looked like the usually Pot Stickers I’ve had a million times at Dim Sum restaurants. There was one difference. These had some kind of glaze on the fried side, something sweet and sugary that caramelized on the dumplings. The fried side was sticky sweet and a nice surprise. The sweetness was a nice counter to the pickled cabbage or the heat of the chili oil that used as a dipping sauce. The pork filling was juicy. There wasn’t a lot of garlic or ginger covering up the simple pork taste. It was a fine dumpling. The glaze was an added treat though it did cause a few of my dumplings to stick together.

Luscious Dumplings Pot Stickers

The price for 10 dumplings was $6. It was a good price but there are better deals to be had in the San Gabriel Valley. Mama’s Lu Dumpling House serves 10 Juicy Pork Dumplings (XLB) for $4.99. The 8 monster sized pan fried dumplings at Qing Dao Bread Food are just a dollar more. And $6 can be a feast at Yung Ho Tou Chiang. Still no one was complaining at the busy Luscious Dumplings. I don’t know if the crowds are like that all the time (though I’d love to visit 6 days straight to find out) but if Saturday is any indication, be prepared to wait.

Luscious Dumplings
704 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 282-8695
Price Range: $6 for 10 dumplings (or 8 of the “Pork with Soup” XLB) or $6 for a bowl of noodle soup with 5 dumplings.