1425 Mackay – 514-700-2720 – Website
Date of Visit: April 23, 2014
Although Montreal has a sizeable Chinatown, it has been my experience, after visiting a number of establishments and perusing on-line menus, that much of what is available is very ‘westernized’ Chinese cuisine. Accordingly, I was quite interested when I came across the webpage for Mei Restaurant as the menu appeared to offer something beyond the usual ‘Sweet and Sour’, ‘Chop Suey’ type dishes. I gave the place a try on a recent visit to the city and, I am happy to report, I was not disappointed with the experience…
Ambience and Service
The webpage and exterior signage for the restaurant refer to the place simply as ‘Mei restaurant’ but business cards on the cashier’s counter give the name in full as ‘Mei Yuan’. The establishment itself is quite tiny, seating not much more than 30 or so, and the décor is fairly plain and simple.
I arrived just after the place opened at about 11:30 in the morning and I was the very first patron. The place started to fill up quite quickly, however, and was quite busy by the time I finished my meal. There was only one waitress on duty for the lunch-hour but she managed very well and there were no lengthy delays in the service.
Mei has a menu that leans heavily towards soup, noodles and dumplings, with many different varieties of the latter available steamed, boiled or fried. There is also a pretty good selection of small dishes, described as ‘Chinese Tapas’ on the menu, and these include a number that are not commonly available elsewhere, such as pig’s ears and beef intestines. A wall board also advertised a pig-feet and corn casserole, as well as some other hot-pot selections, and the main menu lists a goodly number of barbecued items that particularly appealed to me.
I ordered some tea to go with my meal (which was fairly good if not especially interesting) and each table was supplied with soy sauce, chili oil, and a little carafe of black vinegar. At one point, I saw the waitress replenishing the vinegar at another table from a bottle and I noted that it was the same brand of Chinkiang Vinegar if often use at home.
BBQ Lamb Skewers – The barbecue selections that I tried all featured a chili-cumin seasoning blend that I mostly associate with western China. For the above menu selection, I was served three skewers. The chunks of lamb were fairly generous, not overly seasoned, and quite tender and juicy. I enjoyed this very much and was tempted to order another round. Rating: 4 out of 5.
BBQ Chicken Gizzards – This was only the second time I have eaten gizzards in a restaurant. The seasoning was exactly the same was the same as for the lamb skewers and the overall taste not dissimilar. The main difference was in the texture. The gizzards have a slightly cartilaginous ‘bite’ to them but they were still tender while being chewy at the same time. In terms of culinary quality, they were as good as the lamb but I preferred the lamb on the whole. I tried dipping the meat in some of the black vinegar but the combination wasn’t very good. A little soy sauce worked very nicely, however. Rating: 4 out of 5.
BBQ Squid – This was an excellent dish. The squid consisted of just the tentacles but they were of a good, thick size and they were cooked to just the right al dente quality. The seasoning was the same cumin-chili powder blend as my first two dishes but here there was the addition of a sweet sauce that was almost certainly Hoisin. I enjoyed this very much and I look forward to replicating it at home in my own kitchen sometime. Rating: 5 out of 5.
Steamed Pork and Shrimp Dumplings – There is a very wide variety of dumplings available at this restaurant and I would have loved to try a number of different kinds. Unfortunately, they are only available in portions of 15 (far too many for me by myself), or 8 of the sort I ordered. This was a manageable number but it left me no room for anything else. These ‘Steamed Dumplings’ are identified in Chinese characters as 湯包, or tāngbāo, on the menu and this translates as ‘soup dumplings’ or ‘soup buns’. Indeed, they were very like the popular Xiǎolóng bāo except they were a bit smaller and didn’t contain quite as much soup. I ate these with a little chili oil and they were every bit as good as any I have made at home. They were a little unwieldy, but the filling was delicious and the wrappers perfectly tender without being too soft. Rating: 4 out of 5.
While the restaurant itself is rather plain (even a little shabby) the service was perfectly adequate and the food very good indeed. It was a shame I wasn’t able to try a few more of the dumplings or other ‘tapas’ items but I enjoyed the meal immensely. I will happily return of future visits to Montreal.