Jonathan Gold dines Sichuan-style at Meizhou Dongpo

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A celebrated poet, calligrapher and herbalist of the Song Dynasty, Su Dongpo (c. 1037–1101 AD) was also a legendary gourmand credited with having perfected hanzshou rou, a dish otherwise known as Hangzhou-style “red-cooked pork.” Originally from Meizhou in the Sichuan province, Dongpo rose through the government ranks until he eventually fell out of favor for speaking out against political corruption. During his exile, he published thousands of poems and set himself to mastering Dongpo rou, a variation on the popular pork dish that now bears his namesake and has become one of the hallmarks of traditional Chinese cuisine.

While there are many historical accounts of how this dish came to be, some things are for certain. For starters, Dongpo pork should be intensely flavorful but not greasy. Cooked in a mixture of soy sauce, Chinese rice wine and a blend of spices, the perfect Dongpo pork retains its form through alternating layers of pork belly meat and fat and is tender to the touch, almost gelatinous. At the Beijing-based restaurant group Meizhou Dongpo’s newest location in Arcadia, you can order it two ways: the classic braised pork belly or the whole hock (Dongpo zhou zi) simmering in caramelized porky juices and blanketed with a piquant Sichuan chili sauce and fresh chives.

Meizhou Dongpo - Chef & Duck
The carving and plating of the Beijing duck takes food performance art to a whole new level at Meizhou Dongpo.

Another restaurant specialty recommended by LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold is the Beijing duck, which is slow-roasted and theatrically carved onstage as a display of Meizhou Dongpo’s opulent grandeur. Order the whole duck and they’ll even send you home with the carcass for congee. No extra charge. And no Sichuan restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley is complete without wok-fried Chongqing chicken (la zi ji) or steaming water-cooked fish swimming in a sea of fiery dried chilies and fragrant Sichuan peppercorns. So go with a group and splurge; it’s all about the mouth-tingling má là experience.

Meizhou Dongpo - La Zi Ji
Finding the spicy, crispy la zi ji nuggets in this dish is half the reward. (Photo by Camellia Tse/KCRW)

One final tip: if you’re a large group, take advantage of the royal VIP treatment. Call ahead and reserve a private dining room. Some of them have their own sitting rooms and flat-screened TVs. This restaurant is massive and well-equipped to host private banquets, so just tell them that the Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer for the LA Times sent you. For more of his musings about Meizho Dongpo, read Jonathan’s LA Times review and find more of his LA restaurant recommendations here.

Meizhou Dongpo - Mapo Tofu
The sizzling scarlet mapo tofu. (Photo by Camellia Tse/KCRW)

Recommendations: Try the Meizhou roast duck, Dongpo pork hock, fish in chili broth, Chongqing spicy chicken and mapo tofu.

Location: 400 South Baldwin, Arcadia, CA, 91007 | (626) 538-4580

Meizhou Dongpo - Red Party Room
One of Meizhou Dongpo’s private dining and banquet rooms. (Photo by Camellia Tse/KCRW)