QUESTION: I know you are probably sick of preening ex–New Yorkers proclaiming the superiority of their city’s cuisine, but I used to practically live on the soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai back in the day, both the restaurant down in Chinatown and the marginally better original out in Flushing, and I need to know: Where can I find a decent soup dumpling out here? And don’t tell me Mandarin Deli, because those things aren’t really soup dumplings and the pan-fried potstickers are really much better there anyway.
—Robert A., West Hollywood
ANSWER: There are two schools of thought on soup dumplings, which are basically thin-walled spheroids filled with pork and jellied broth that transform themselves into boiling-hot mouthfuls of juice. Some people swear by the high-tech dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, elastic, ultrathin wrappers bulging with the steamy weight of soup and meat that are engineered never to leak a drop, chewy if you like that sort of thing, and every one perfect.
My tastes run toward the more soulful soup dumplings at Mei Long Village, a venerable Shanghainese restaurant anchoring yet another small San Gabriel mall. Mei Long’s dumplings leak sometimes, and the noodle cladding can occasionally seem more rustic than silken. At Din Tai Fung, soup dumplings are the main event; at Mei Long, it is possible to have a week’s worth of braised fish tail and jade shrimp and lion’s-head meatballs and Wuxi spareribs without even noticing that soup dumplings are on the menu at all. But the dumplings are wonderful, pure, intensely flavored shots of pork or crab flavor modulated into something resembling complexity when you garnish them with a few drops of black vinegar and a shred or two of fresh ginger. They are, by the way, miles better than anything you can get at Joe’s Shanghai. Mei Long Village, 301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 112, San Gabriel, (626) 284-4769.
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