The congee at Mei Lin’s downtown restaurant Nightshade is not the plain congee I ate growing up in the San Gabriel Valley. That congee often required more than a couple shakes of whatever vinegar, hot sauce or white pepper was on the table.
Lin’s congee is the superhero, an-Arya-kills-the-Night-King-with-the-Valyrian-dagger version of that SGV congee. She uses the short-grain koshihikari rice that sushi chef Mori Odonera once cultivated in Uruguay. It’s a thick, starchy porridge threaded with hot ginger and garlic. And Lin adds six toppings for a roller coaster of spice, funk, heat and texture that touches every point along the Chinese American flavor spectrum.
“It’s one of those dishes that I often crave,” Lin said. “I really want the country and L.A. to understand what it is and to enjoy it other than at Chinese dim sum, which is often bland.”
She serves it with the toppings arranged into neat sections like a color wheel: A dollop of XO sauce, a mound of pork floss, curls of green onions, pale crispy wontons, an onsen egg with its yolk just about to burst and a pile of fried garlic and shallots.
One day, L.A. diners may only know the elevated versions of rice porridge at Nightshade and Minh Phan’s Porridge + Puffs, forgetting the great stuff I grew up on in the cafes along Valley Boulevard. With bowls of congee this good, there should be room in the world for both.