Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mini Foodventure #143: Michelle's Pancakes (San Gabriel)

While I often do my homework before checking out a place, there's just as many times when I pick a place on a whim without any prior knowledge. Such was the case with Michelle's Pancakes last week, when my mom and I got jonesing for dumplings on a rainy day and decided to meet halfway between our homes. Finding nearby Luscious Dumplings already out of several varieties, we decided to cross the parking lot to Michelle's instead, which I suggested only having remembered it as a skipped stop from the running food marathon. Only upon entering did I realize it's a LA Times' profiled restaurant -- thankfully, a few months have past since the write-up and we dine a bit late that night so the floor wasn't really packed.

Beef Pancake Roll + Pork Dumpling
We decided to split two plates of dumplings (pork/leek and shrimp/egg/leek) and the not-on-official-menu Shandong-style beef roll (spice-marinated beef wrapped with scallions, cilantro and hoisin sauce in a crispy pancake), and as a perk for ordering three dishes we got to choose a side from their fridge. We opted for a Chinese seaweed salad.
Beef Pancake Roll
The beef roll here is decidedly a bit more elegant and delicate than say, the more robustly-flavored and rustically-presented ones at 101 Noodle Express. Overall, the taste is a bit lighter and less intense, the spices in the marinated beef are more subdue, and the onions in the roll and the pancakes aren't particularly overwhelming -- and I definitely love that I don't have to unravel the roll to pick out excess cilantro leaves (which I often do with other beef rolls.) To draw a Chinese food parallel, I likened Michelle Pancake's beef rolls to Din Tai Fung's xiaolongbaos, both more refined than the typical specimen.
Pork dumpling interior
As for the dumplings we ordered, the flavors were also lighter than the norm and bordering on bland for the shrimp/egg/leek one, but the filling was juicy and the wrappers were delightfully tender for being boiled and I totally believe their "No MSG" claim upon eating these. While I don't mind eating mild-flavored dumplings, I did mind that I can't use my requisite condiments to punch it up a notch as the chili oil container was all kinds of gross, lifting the lid yielded slimey strings that reminded me of natto strands. So not acceptable! My mom was wary of trying the other condiments there too, but alas, desperate to inject some extra flavor, we went with a vinegar/soy sauce/sesame oil combo to dip our dumplings in, and my mom asked for a side of raw garlic cloves, which we nibbled on alongside our dumplings to somewhat compensate for the lack of spicy and oniony tastes.

Our three mains and a side wound up to be $22-ish, slightly higher than I expected but not too bad. Despite the price, I'd likely make a return trip from time to time for the beef rolls if only to save my fingers from smelling like the cilantro I have to pick off. And hopefully the condiments' cleaniness improves or I may have to take a cue from mama and BYO Chili Oil.

What Do Others Say?
- The SGVN (Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News) finds it "hard not to order too much" here, but noted that they make great leftovers too.
- It is highlighted as one of Asian Dumpling Tip's favorite SGV dumpling houses
- Eat:LA pits their beef rolls against 101 and Mama's Kitchen, and mentions Michelle's "has the most pleasant atmosphere and service of the three."

Michelle's Pancakes
706 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776-1161
(626) 293-8098
Michelle's Pancakes in Los Angeles


Khoi said...

I love dumplings and was excited to read this! Too bad about the flavor and the chili oil grossness, ha. Perhaps one more place to drive on by when I'm rollin' down Las Tunas (in my '6-4). ...are there any other notable dumpling places on Las Tunas I wonder?


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