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