Friday, January 18, 2008

Din Tai Fung

(From December 28)

K. and I met up at Din Tai Fung for lunch. This dumpling house is a famed chain that serves up legendary
xiao long bao in Taipei. Buzz on the interweb indicates that the Arcadia branch isn't up to snuff with Taipei, but many people were completely enraptured with the place. Buzz from the parental units was that it was expensive, overrated, and certainly not worth the 1+ hour waits. K., however, enjoyed her many visits and her co-workers love this place. So, with all of that, there was no way I could have any solid expectations going into lunch.

We met about 15 minutes after opening and the restaurant was packed. We ended up waiting another half an hour, which wasn't bad. If you are close enough, you can amuse yourself by watching the cooks make dumplings.

If anything, I have to give this place props for being insanely efficient. You're given an order sheet when you request a table, so you can create your order while you wait. The
xiao long bao are already steaming in stacks of steamer trays, so you have a tray plopped in front of you within 5 minutes of seating and taking your order sheet.

They are pretty awesome, with a delicate wrapper and a burst of flavorful soup. I've never encountered a wrapper this thin, but it's fabulous and surprisingly sturdy. We also ordered the shrimp and pork dumplings, which were good, but not as good as the XLB.

Portions are not large at all and for me and K., it took four dishes to complete a meal. We decided to not binge on dumplings and had two non-dumpling items. The first was the House Beef Noodle Soup.

The beef was tender, the noodles good, and the broth was slightly bland with ginger as the primary flavor. It wasn't bad at all, but it was barely enough for one person, let alone two. The second dish was the vegetarian Shanghai rice cake.

Chewy-but-tender slices of rice dough seared on a hot pan, then tossed with veggies. I like this dish and the dough is perfectly cooked. Slightly gummy without being tough, tender without falling apart.

In the end, I'd say I'd agree with K. and my folks. It is a great meal and I would definitely eat here occasionally if I lived in the area. However, it is expensive with small portions and I found the interweb buzz to be a tad overrated (as all "buzzes" tend to be). While the food is great and well-made, would I battle crowds for it? Eh. Maybe not. Would I go early to avoid the wait? Definitely.

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