Monday, May 5, 2008
Attention Pork Lovers
If you think you've had fall-off-the-bone pork that's been braised forever, you're in for a surprise. Our trusted source for all things San Gabriel Valley, the C-man and his family, generously let us in on their favorite pork haunt -- Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant in Monterey Park.
The specialty pork dish called House Special Ham Hock was a thing of beauty. Ok, it didn't look pretty (pictured left is what it looks like when it arrives at the table) but the amazingly soft texture and succulent flavor all but made up for it. For unsuspecting onlookers, the dish is an intimidating mountain of brown blob, sitting atop a bed of steamed greens. It's the "lower elbow part of the pig," according to my source, braised in soy sauce, star anise and many other spices for hours. The blob you see is skin with a layer of fat underneath and smothered in the aromatic, dark-colored marinade. The meat -- which revealed itself like a wonderful surprise when the waitress deftly opens up the blob using two spoons -- was best appreciated when consumed in tandem with the oh-so-flavorful skin and fat. It was sweet and salty at the same time and so subtle that you could savor the essence of the pork meat. The steamed greens added a refreshing touch to the meat and skin combination that could be a tad heavy if eaten by itself. It was probably one of the best pork dishes I have ever had. I highly recommend it.
My next favorite was a shrimp duo, the Jade Shrimp and House Special Shrimp, that could be had as two half-orders for variety. The delicate and mild-flavored Jade Shrimp got its moniker from a pea-based sauce it is pan-fried in. It was very soft in texture (not overcooked) and complemented some of the saltier and spicier flavors on the table very well. The House Special Shrimp was deep-fried and smothered in a garlicky sauce that is both sweet and spicy, almost like buffalo wings. It reminded me a bit of the Korean style Chinese dish called kkanpoongki, which is wonderfully garlicky deep-fried chicken pieces smothered in a similar sauce.
I also liked the dried sauteed string beans, which also had a tinge of garlic, and mapo tofu, the decidedly non-Shanghaiese dish that was decent but maybe we shouldn't have ordered that in a restaurant with Shanghai in its name.
The dish I thought wasn't as stellar as the rest was the fish fillet in garlic sauce. The fish wasn't as fresh as it could be and it tasted like the fish had been fried a while back and had been refried one too many times. Oh, we also had the soup dumplings but I'm not going to honor it. Basically no contest to DTF. Not even to Mei Long Village. But I don't hold it against them because that's not what they're known for. Parking is easy and no reservations required. I was surprised, in my bias, to see that the place seems to be owned by a non-Chinese person. I was also surprised to find on Gayot that the place had closed down, which it had not.
We capped the meal with a sweet sticky rice dessert. It was ok but I longed for an intricate dessert that had been described to us by the C-man. Alas, it wasn't available that night so naturally, I craved it even more. We had to settle for lychee drinks and taro balls at Tea Station in Alhambra, which weren't terrible alternatives.
Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant
219 East Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Tel. (626) 280-3571