It's been said that if you want good food in the South Bay, you must learn to love Asian cuisine. Wells and I have been on the hunt for a non-traditional Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood and we have found a place called Mei Long that harmoniously fuses East and West.
Mei Long is located in a half-empty strip mall on El Camino Real in Mountain View. Perhaps because we arrived shortly before closing, or perhaps due to the economic downturn in our area, the place was nearly empty on a Saturday evening. This is unfortunate, because the food here is generally excellent. Chef/owner Renyi Liu has built Mei Long's reputation by fusing classical Chinese cuisine with Western presentations and ingredients, along with attentive service.
It was just past 9pm as we sat down, definitely near the end of the night. The restaurant closes at 9:30, but there was still time for us to have a quick bite. On a previous visit our appetizers included a fantastic smoked salmon, crispy on one side and cut into neat squares, and some deep-fried shrimp that was light and delicious. This time out we opted for Szechuan dumplings (non-spicy) and a plate of won tons with a plum sauce. The dumplings were everything Wells and I like about pot stickers but without any greasiness or toughness in the skins. Wells declares himself a "spice wimp" and usually asks the staff to pull back the spiciness of many dishes. I got the sense that the dumplings would have been even better with the heat of most Szechuan cooking. Even still, they were very good. The won tons were adequate, if nothing special, served with a dish of standard plum sauce.
The appetizers were served very hot, and the main course, which also arrived very hot, followed soon after. Unlike the "family style" of most Chinese restaurants, Mei Long serves individually. Also rare for a chinese restaurant, they provide an extensive wine list, with many available by the half glass.
I opted for the stuffed salmon, which featured geometrically arranged salmon rectangles and asparagus stalks radiating from the center of the plate. Layered with Chinese ham, the salmon had apparently been fried very slightly in tempura. A light and flavorful wine sauce tied everything together. I matched it with a glass of '99 Grgich Hills Fume' Blanc, a simple sauvignon blanc that worked with the salmon but wasn't terribly impressive.
Wells had avoided the specialty dishes and ordered a classic Chinese restaurant dish - tangerine beef. While it was tasty when piping hot from the kitchen, it quickly reduced to a bready, flavorless, tangerine-free mush, requiring mustard to give it even a little bit of flavor. This was definitely a failure, which is highly atypical and unlikely for a place of Mei Long's caliber.
We thought about why that dish turned out the way it did. Here is the lesson we learned from the tangerine beef at Mei Long, as we've learned at other places: don't order off the menu. Mei Long is not a typical Chinese restaurant. The chef has taken great pains with the seafood dishes, the wine list, and the presentations. The presence of typical Chinese restaurant items like kung pao shrimp and tangerine beef on the menu is probably due to customer demand and therefore the chef is not taking the extra effort that he does with the showpiece dishes. At the very least, these are not the house specialties. and so the ingredient selection and techniques are unlikely to match the caliber of the main dishes. Amazingly, ordering tangerine beef at Mei Long is like ordering a shrimp scampi at a diner - they'll serve it up to you, but you'd have had a better experience if you ordered a grilled cheese sandwich.
All in all, Mei Long is an excellent Chinese restaurant boasting true innovations in wine, presentation and food quality. It's becoming one of the places Wells and I like to frequent.
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