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We went to Mei’s Corner on the coldest night of the year (thus far). All I wanted after shlepping around Michigan Avenue in the arctic temps was hot, big, filling, comforting, warm, bold, authentic Chinese food. Enter Mei’s Corner in the historic Whitehall Hotel.
I had been told by a friend that Mei’s boasted some of the most authentic Asian food in Chicago, if not THE most authentic. Since I had yet to try real, true, authentic Chinese cuisine (and I’m an expert as a Jew with New York roots), I decided to try Mei’s and see for myself.
We started with the Vietnamese Spring Rolls (cold rice paper wrap with crab, cabbage, basil, carrots, sprouts and vermicelli) and the Steamed Dumplings (we ordered the seafood and veggie varieties; Berkshire pork also available). I will admit I’ve had better (the Vietnamese spring rolls at neighboring restaurant Le Colonial, after all, are something to write home about), but we were off to a decent and healthy start. Still desiring something hothothot, I also ordered the Chicken and Vegetable Soup (sliced chicken and watercress in a light homemade broth). Arctic temps or not, this soup is sure to warm you right up and taste darn good while doing so.
Since Mei’s encourages sharing, especially with their Asian-style small plates, we decided to share a bunch of entrees. And by a bunch I mean four. Four entrees, three appetizers (the adorable, taciturn chef sent out the age-old Crab Rangoon), one bowl of soup and three desserts (for three people)… I digress. But I can’t digress from the fact that the entrees were the stars of this culinary show. I use “show,” not “spectacle” or “extravaganza,” because Mei’s is very understated, under-decorated and just plain simple when it comes to atmosphere. Good – let the food shine.
The Seafood Fried Rice (shrimp, crab and scallops with asparagus, green onion and egg whites) was perfect. And the fact that we could substitute brown rice for white made us very happy. This fried rice rivaled any I’ve ever had. The Lettuce Wraps with Chicken (minced chicken, mushrooms, zucchini and water chestnuts, on a bed of crispy rice noodles topped with pine nuts and served with lettuce bowls and house made wraps), a must-have item according to our server, was a good dish. It was very typical, not too special, but definitely good. The Beef with Pea Pods and Bamboo Shoots was WAY better than the standard lettuce wraps. The lightly fried and sautéed beef with pea pods, bamboo and pan fried flat rice noodles melted in your mouth. And although I love my beef – especially since I eat it so rarely – it was the noodles (those perfectly-textured, deliciously-cooked noodles) that made me hog this dish from my less-than-amused dinner companions. And last but certainly not least, the absolute best dish (as well as the heartiest) of the evening was the Berkshire Pork Meatballs and Vermicelli (Berkshire pork meatballs marinated in spices then slow cooked in chicken broth with Napa cabbage served over vermicelli). This was just as comforting as mom’s spaghetti and meatballs, just as familiar as your favorite pork lo mein and just as delicious as any Asian dish I had this night or any other.
Did I mention that Mei’s is extremely affordable? Remember when Miranda was ordering so much Chinese food from the take-out place around the corner that they knew her order immediately upon picking up the phone? I guarantee our party of three spent less on our entire meal than she did for a party of one in New York City.
So on a cold, brutal, very-Chicago winter night, heed the advice of my friend saying Mei’s is one of the most authentic Asian restaurants in the city and go to the Whitehall Hotel. You won’t be blown away by the ambience, or even the appetizers, but you will be by the entrees and the very friendly service staff. Trust me. I’m a Jew from New York. I know good Chinese.