One cuisine I can’t get enough of is Shanghainese, part of the vast cooking empire that defines the food of China. It’s a cuisine that uses alcohol and sugar more than others in China, with a multitude of fish and seafood preparations, most notably eel with yellow chive, and the infamous hairy crab, neither of which are reliably found in Vegas.
Nor are two of my favorite dishes from the region, beggar’s chicken, a preparation for which a whole stuffed chicken is baked in clay, or Lion Head meatball, a giant, fatty pork meatball swathed in greens. Head to L.A. for those dishes, or pay the the trans-Pacific fare.
The good news, though, is that many Shanghainese dishes are found here, such as the famous shao loong bao, or “little basket dumplings”, aka juicy pork dumplings, and many other dishes from eastern China.
Now we have a modest newcomer, Three Villages, a modest, virtually unmarked new restaurant on the second floor of Pacific Asian Plaza on Spring Mountain Rd. Oh, there is a sign, all right, but it is in Chinese.
I’m thinking that they weren’t really targeting the Caucasians when they conceived this place, but hey, maybe that’s just my fantasy. In any case, the best way to find this place is to go up the ramp to park on the 2nd level, or you’ll miss the entrance, which is around the back. Inside, the service is friendly, solicitous, largely monolingual, and not generally in English.
Happily, someone has completely translated the menu, although that may not help you understand dishes with names like Jin Dong meat pie or Eight Treasure Noodle.
Actually, Jin Dong meat pie is a good place to start. Picture a Frisbee of spun gold, with a thin, juicy layer of flavorful minced pork under the surface, and another layer of fried dough holding it inside. The pie has been cut into pizza shaped wedges, making it easy to manage. With a touch of chili sauce, this dish, under five dollars, is pure heaven.
Shao loong bao here are uncommonly juicy, served in a metal steamer, eight to an order. I wouldn’t say these are as good as the ones you eat at China MaMa around the corner, but I’d call them the second best for the price in the city.
There are many other delicious dishes to eat here. One dish I always get here is cumin lamb, thinly sliced stir-fried lamb redolent of cumin, garlic and chopped leek. It’s divine on steamed rice. Eight Treasure is a mince of shrimp, lotus seed, water chestnut, pork, bamboo shoot and other components, another dish made for white rice, although here, it is served over noodles. The menu has lots more to cut your teeth on.
If you like bamboo shoots, order pork with bamboo shoots, the pork finely chopped, mingling in a forest of tender, toothsome baby bamboo. One of the more exotic choices here is string bean with flat fishes and bacon, which has a flavor profile that takes a little getting used to.
Bacon is also put to good use in the dish bacon cabbage, which is as simple as it sounds-a stir-fry of two only ingredients, plus oil. But note that this is Chinese bacon, salty back bacon more like Canadian than conventional American bacon.
This is a bare bones facility. You will be served a pot of green tea without having to ask, but for ice water, start making hand signals. And forget adornments. I’m happy with light bulbs, tables and chairs when the food is good, so I’ll be back, and often.
Three Villages in the Pacific Asian Plaza, 5115 Spring Mountain Rd. 425-2159.
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