Friday, September 11, 2009

Arcadia- Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 921007
626-574-7068
www.dintaifungusa.com

During our weekend eating trip, I took Boyfriend to Din Tai Fung.  I've been wanting to take Boyfriend for a long time because he loves Xiao Long Bao.  I've been to Din Tai Fung in Taiwan several times, but never to the Arcadia one.

Every time my family goes to Taiwan, my relatives make sure they take us to Din Tai Fung. For those of you who don't know, Din Tai Fung is a famous restaurant chain throughout Asia that is famous for their Xiao Long Bao, which are little dumplings filled with pork and soup.  When you visit a location, you can actually see the workers making the dumplings by hand.  Each one is weighed for quality and consistency.

The Din Tai Fung in Arcadia is the only location in the US. It is so popular that they actually built two locations, but they are right next to each other.  Like most places that get hyped up, Din Tai Fung is usually very packed and has a long wait  The prices are also on the high side. Is it worth it?  If I lived in the area and had many other XLB choices, then I probably would not visit often.  But since I don't live in an area that is abundant with restaurants making good XLB, I thought it was worth it to make the trip.

I've read mixed reviews about Din Tai Fung.  Some people hype it up as the best thing they ever ate.  Others complain it's not worth the hype.  I think I'm a bit in between.  I agree that the lines are too long and the dumplings are on the pricey side, but at the same time I can see why Din Tai Fung is so famous and I do think it stands out from other places.

There are a couple of things about Din Tai Fung's XLB that really stand out.

1. The thin skin.  The skin is so thin.  I have yet to find a place that can make the skin as thin as Din Tai Fung and not have their dumplings break.  There were a couple of places in Taiwan that were close contenders, but they would invariably have to have a really thick skin near the top, where the skin is pinched together. 

2.  The elasticity of the skin. Not only is the skin thin,but it is amazingly durable.  The biggest problem with XLB is that they break easily.  One small poke of the chopstick, or the bottom getting stuck on the steamer, and all your soup leaks out.  The XLB at Din Tai Fung are all supposed to arrive in perfect condition.  And after eating tons and tons of these dumplings, I have not had one break on me before I bit into it.  I'm not saying the skin is bulletproof, but it is quite durable.  There were a couple times on this visit that I was afraid one would break because it got stuck on the steamer, but it always remained intact.  Boyfriend even went as far as to prod and poke the skin with his chopstick and it still didn't break.

3. Size and temperature.  I always had such difficulty eating XLB until I went to Din Tai Fung.  You want to eat it with the soup, but normally it's either too big to fit in your mouth in one bite or it's too hot.  I've burned myself quite a few times trying to eat these morsels.  While the XLB at Din Tai Fung are hot, I don't think they are too hot.  They are also the perfect size to pop whole into your mouth.  I usually cool mine down a little by dipping it in the vinegar, and then pop the whole thing in my mouth.  While the liquid can be a bit uncomfortably hot, it doesn't burn my mouth.

4.  Consistency and taste.  I like that they weigh each dumpling.  Every time I go, the dumplings taste the same.  The same tasty filling, the same amount of soup.  There are many places I go to where the dumplings can be good on one occasion and dry on another.

So, Din Tai Fung actually sells more than just XLB.  However, I've tried various dishes there and the only things I really like are their XLB and also the pork chop fried rice.

We got there around 6:30 on a Saturday.  And the wait was not bad at all.  Only 15 minutes.  In Taiwan, each time we went, the wait was over an hour long, no matter what time of day it was.  I felt bad for my relatives.  They told us they never usually come, only when we are visiting.

I was extremely impressed with the staff's efficiency.  They are really able to get people in and out of there fast.  As soon as we entered, we were given an order form.

After we were seated, someone came over to look at our order form.  Within a minute, our first set of dumplings arrived.

You are given fresh ginger and vinegar to dip the dumplings in.  The tables are packed tightly together.  There is a lot of staff, many of them wearing headsets to help ease communication.  With each food plate arrival, the item is checked off your list.

Our second set of dumplings arrived before we were finished.  They simply stacked the new one underneath the old one so that the new ones would stay hot while we finished the first set.

Our first set were regular pork dumplings. 

They were quite tasty and juicy.  Though something was missing.  But I expected as much.  They don't taste exactly like the ones in Taiwan, but they are still good.

Our next set were the pork and crab dumplings.  They put a little carrot tip in the steamer to differentiate the two.  If you look closely, the dumplings have a reddish tint from the crab filling inside.  While I could definitely taste the crab, neither Boyfriend or I liked these.  I felt like the crab tasted a bit fishy.  When we finished our first tray, the empty tray was immediately removed from our table.

Next came the pork chop fried rice.  The pork pieces are nicely seasoned and the fried rice has a rich, buttery taste to it.

We got one more order of pork dumplings and then it was onto dessert.  Before we arrived, Boyfriend complained he wasn't  hungry and that he thought we only needed to order twenty dumplings.  I told him they were small and that he would easily finish ten.  He didn't believe me. When our first order was gone, he was so surprised.  He couldn't believe we had polished off ten so quickly.

For dessert, I got the red bean steamed cake. I love the pretty colors.

The cake was chewy and not too sweet.  I enjoyed it. 

We had some leftovers which were immediately packed for us.  Also, we had ordered several orders of XLB to go.  After all, we had made such a long trip, might as well bring some back.  The to go orders arrived as soon as we finished and were given our check.

The to go orders were packaged in these cute boxes. To differentiate between the pork and crab dumplings, the pork ones have a sticker on the outside with a pig and the crab ones have a crab sticker.

The to go orders also come with small containers with fresh ginger and with vinegar.  I was worried that these wouldn't taste as good once reheated.  I had never actually brought home XLB.  They are always gobbled up at the restaurant.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  They tasted great even the next day after being reheated.

The cake lasted well too.  And the color of the cake came out much prettier in the daylight.

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

 

10 Responses to “Arcadia- Din Tai Fung”

  1. 1

    Carol — September 11, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    It’s been so long since I’ve had XLB. Your post makes me want to drive all the way up to LA to try them!

  2. 2

    Kirbie — September 11, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    haha! Writing this post made me want to take another trip back already!

  3. 3

    Faye — September 11, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    I went to the DTF in Taipei b/c my grams raved about the place. I thought the XLB was ‘ok’ – but not mind blowing :(
    My Taiwanese friends said that the DTF in LA is ok but not worth the wait (if it’s over 15 min or so).
    Is there an XLB place here in SD that you think is THE best (aside from Chins Miramar or 168?)…
    I love it how your bf is always willing to eat w/ you when he’s not all that hungry! Now THAT’S true love…
    Thanks for the review – the pics are making my tummy growl!

  4. 4

    Cookie — September 11, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

    I’d like to claim that Shanghai has the BEST XLB since that’s where they originated from. I remember eating them by the dozen as a kid. After moving to the states, the best XLB and closest to the original were always from either Arcadia or Monterey Park. I remember this one place having these crab XLB that were literally to die for! Too bad I can’t remember the name!

  5. 5

    sawyer — September 13, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

    i’ve been to dtf twice, and both times were enjoyable…only had xlb a few other places, and so far it stands up as the best i’ve had…but that’s not saying a lot because my experience is limited…never had that cake there, but it looks really pretty and nice. i had some red bean dumpling for dessert, and those were really good…simple and sweetened w/ honey. walked across the street to some Japanese dessert place for some crepes after.

  6. 6

    Kirbie — September 14, 2009 @ 9:38 am

    Hi Faye-
    I probably wouldn’t be willing to wait too long at DTF either. We only waited about 10 minutes last time.
    As for XLB in SD, I’ve been pretty disappointed with the ones I’ve tried. I’m still waiting for a good place to open up here.
    I am lucky to have a bf that is willing to go on all these eating adventures with me. =) I think I’m slowly converting him too. hehe

  7. 7

    Kirbie — September 14, 2009 @ 9:40 am

    Hi Cookie- I’ve never had the pleasure of eating XLB from Shanghai though I imagine they must taste great since they did originate there. I’ve had delicious crab XLB at places in the Bay Area. I didn’t like the crab ones at DTF though.

  8. 8

    Kirbie — September 14, 2009 @ 9:41 am

    Hi Sawyer- I’ve never tried the red bean dumpling. I’ll have to try it out next time.

  9. 9

    joanh — September 15, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

    wow you always have to wait at DTF for an hour???!! do you go to the original location (near Yong Kang St)? the one near Zhong Xiao E Road isn’t as crazy packed. most often we just walk right in.
    the red bean dessert dumplings are SO good! :)

  10. 10

    Kirbie — September 16, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    I’m never quite sure where I am when my relatives take me out in Taiwan. I know I’ve been to three different locations. I remember one was the original. Also went to one inside Taipei 101 I think? (Or another really nice building that had a whole floor selling mooncakes, pineapple cakes, mochi, etc that we sampled and bought while waiting.) But yeah, at every location, we waited at least an hour. And even when we left, there were still tons of people waiting.
    I can’t believe I’ve never tried the red bean dumplings! I thought my aunt ordered every possible item on the menu. I’ll have to try it next time.

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