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Mei Sum

In the fickle food-service industry, restaurants may only get one chance to make a good impression.

Sadly, exteriors and decor can be a deal-breaker before some diners ever taste the food. I have to assume for Mei Sum in Talent this is at least half the battle.

I decided to check out Mei Sum on the recommendation of a newspaper reader who thought enough of the place to e-mail the folks who turn out Tempo.

No disrespect intended, but the popular take on local restaurants doesn't necessary align with mine, as evidenced by the annual Mail Tribune Readers Choice awards.

So just to be on the safe side, I asked a co-worker who lives in Ashland what she knew about Mei Sum.

"That must be the place in that dingy old lounge," she said. "It has all this weird rock on the outside."

Oh.

But fresh out of other candidates for a dining review, I grabbed another co-worker and vowed to give Mei Sum a fair shake. The busy rock exterior of the former Jack's Tally Ho Lounge on South Pacific Highway was unmistakable. But several large windows betrayed an almost austere atmosphere in the Chinese restaurant occupying the building's north end.

Picking the right door was our first challenge. My friend and I heedlessly plunged into the first entrance we encountered from the parking lot and found ourselves in the dim exterior of the adjacent Little Brown Jug lounge. Oops.

Behind curtain No. 2, the immaculately clean and bright restaurant was reassuring. It should have been the lunch rush, but we shared the dining room with just one other party.

The menu revealed fairly standard selections compared with other local Chinese establishments. Priced between $4.50 and $6.75, lunch combinations included variations on chow mein, fried rice, deep-fried meats, kung pao preparations and stir-fry.

Always in the mood for noodles, I selected the house lo mein ($6.75). Because my friend wanted moo shu chicken ($9), she ordered off the dinner menu. An appetizer of eight pot stickers was $6.

Other dinner choices range from $5.50 for pork egg foo yong to $10 each for several of the seafood dishes. An American menu of steaks and the like and portions for kids and seniors also are available.

We requested a pot of tea, which was lamentably weak. Our server agreed when we explained the problem and brought us another pot, which unfortunately wasn't much of an improvement.

The soup of the day that accompanied our lunches was chicken noodle, reminding me of Medford's iconic Kim's, which used to serve American side dishes and desserts. I have to profess a fondness for egg flower, however, and didn't care much for the rotini noodles in Mei Sum's soup. A side order of egg flower would have been $3.50.

As our server predicted, the entrees came out before the pot stickers. Although we were trying to get our bearings in the face of so much food, I went straight for the dumplings, crisped on one side with just enough oil to bring out the rich pork flavor.

The platter of moo shoo and noodles easily could have fed four people. But true to most moo shus, we would have appreciated more crepes. While bland, the lo mein was steaming hot with crisp, vibrant veggies and juicy bits of beef, chicken and shrimp.

Seeing more than half the food still on our plates, the server remarked that next time we should order the house chow mein, which is spicier and incorporates thinner noodles.

Too bad Mei Sum isn't a realistic option for takeout, considering I live on the north end of the valley. But Talent residents certainly should be pleased Mei Sum is close at hand.

I know one lucky night-shift reporter was happy with the leftovers.

— Sarah Lemon