When Steven A. Shaw comes to town, and asks yours truly to whisk him from venue to venue, in a nine hour Asian eating orgy — well, the invitation is just too good to resist.
Read on after the jump if you wish (and to see the tasty snaps), or click here to hear ELV expound on this profound event in the stentorian tones for which he is known, on News 88.9 FM KNPR – Nevada Public Radio.
Acceptance of this tour-guide responsibility comes with a stockpot of anxieties, though. I mean: this is the founder of egullet.org, and the author of Turning The Tables (an eater’s guide about to getting the most out of restaurants), along with his newest book — Asian Dining Rules — that is essential reading for the Asian-eating neophyte and dilettante alike.
The fact that I was munching among the Michelin stars when he was in short pants, means nothing. He was coming to Vegas, knows these cuisines as well as any food-obsessed New York-based writer can, and wanted to get the best of our best, and be impressed.
Early in his book, Shaw quotes that old Jackie Mason joke: “The Jewish culture is seven thousand years old, and Chinese food is about five thousand years old….So for two thousand years the Jews had nothing to eat!” — telling you (if there was any doubt) that appreciation and knowledge of this food is practically in his DNA.
So no sweet and sour pork for this guy…if you know what I mean. Instead it was straight to Ping Pang Pong in the Gold Coast for dramatic dim sum — the best in town. Steven thought I was joking as we swerved around and through the slot banks — “Good dim sum? Here?” he kept asking. Then he eyed the carts with the steely-eyed calculation of an Amsterdam diamond merchant. A few bites later, there were sighs of approval all around, but not what we were looking for.
Then with a nod towards the manager, the floodgates opened and (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor) owners Kevin and Karrie Wu hit us with a blizzard of the tastiest Chinese dumplings and pastries you’ll ever find on this continent.
Just looking at them, our table (consisting of two other uber-foodies) fell silent. Bites were taken, plates passed and moans of approval mumbled among us. “This is world class,” exclaimed Shaw, in between bites. And so it was.
Of course I had stacked the deck a bit by telling them a VIP Asian food aficionado and author was on his way, but this being Vegas, and the dim sum being so good, all was forgiven. And this being just the start of our day-long food feast, it was time to move on.
In rapid succession, we then hit those twin storefronts of western Chinese hot and spicy savoriness: Dong Ting Spring and Yun Nan Garden. Located next door to each other on an alley way in about the worst location two restaurants can have, these two keepers of the fiery flame of authentic, mouth-searing, serious food were a must stop. After a few dishes at each — the highlights were lamb with cumin at Yun Nan and smoked pig’s tongue at Dong Ting Spring, it was off to one of the newest, most authentic and amazing places to pop up around Spring Mountain Road in years.
Because if you like dumplings, or potstickers, or pork buns or Chinese noodles and haven’t been to China MaMa yet, you are missing one of the great culinary experiences in the Las Vegas Valley.
Located in an old dry-cleaning store on Jones just off West Spring Mountain Road, China MaMa is Shanghai noodle cuisine at its best. The things to get here are listed under “pastry” and include the soup dumplings known as steamed juicy pork bun (P23 on the menu), pan fried pot sticker (gyoza P27), pan friend shrimp and green nira (leek) pillow (P31), and the boiled shrimp and greed(sic) nira dumpling (P32).
Oh yeah, and there’s also the Kung Pao cabbage (H93), sliced fish in hot chili sauce (H63), chicken with pickle chili sauce (H50), and the not-to-be-missed flambeed chitlins (H23). ELV and his staff have been here four times and haven’t even scratched the surface of this menu, but every thing tried has been a wonder of flavor and composition.
Four lunches in one day may seem extreme to some, but when the Chinese food is as good as it was at Ping Pang Pong, Dong Ting Spring, Yunnan Garden and China MaMa, all it did was leave us hungry for more.
PING PANG PONG
In the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino
4000 West Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89103
DONG TING SPRING
3950 Schiff Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89103
YUN NAN GARDEN
3934 Schiff Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89103
3420 South Jones Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89146
p.s. When entering China MaMa, look for the picture of ELV with Steven A. Shaw on the wall, point at it enthusiastically, jump up and down* and tell the owner (“Mary”) what a good friend you are of the world’s greatest restaurant critic.** Do this, and you’ll be treated like a king and guided through the menu by the helpful staff.***
* Optional, not mandatory.
** Self-proclaimed, but also heartily endorsed as such by this guy.
*** They do this for everyone, but it’s always fun to start a strange meal in a strange place by making a fool of yourself.