Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia is a veritable palace of dumplings (they have locations in Taiwan, too, but for now a drive into the next valley will have to do). We knew it had to be a good choice as soon as we walked up--the place was buzzing and full, with people waiting both inside and out. When we left it was still busy. To our surprise, some friends popped in and were seated at the table next to ours. "We're on the way to Palm Springs, but we just had to stop off for some dumplings!" they said. Instant party!
We went with our friends Andy and Mai, who are regulars here, and we let them navigate the menu for us.
We started with xiaolongbao or "soup dumplings," juicy dumplings filled with pork and crab and steamed. The operative word here is "juicy," because when you chomp down on them, they squirt broth into your mouth...and onto your shirt if you're not careful! If they've just arrived at the table it's best to nip a tiny hole in the dumpling and carefully slurp out the soup, so you don't burn yourself. But don't wait too long--when these delicate dumplings cool, they tend to stick to the parchment paper beneath them and can tear when you try to pick them up. And you don't want to lose a drop of that yummy broth.
Does this dumpling look more like a large mushroom or a tiny chef's toque for Remy, the rat in Ratatouille?
The shrimp and pork wontons with spicy sauce were especially good. We ended up dunking the dumplings into the sauce as well. (The menu read "wanton with spicy sauce," but I'm not going to debate its morality!) Like the shiaomai, the pork and crab dumplings and a few other dishes on the menu, the wontons combined meat with seafood, something I'm finding quite often in Asian meals that doesn't seem to show up on Western menus.
Okay, so it's a dumpling house, but we were seduced by the homemade noodles as well...
Beef noodle soup is a popular fast food in Taiwan, and it made a great add-on to our dumpling feast. This bowl of noodles contains spicy roast beef and bok choy in a super-rich broth. In spite of its popularity, beef isn't consumed with much frequency in Taiwan, because the family oxen are valued for the chores they perform. It would be akin to eating your pickup truck, I guess.
Mmm, just saying "pork mincemeat sauce" makes me drool. This mixture included tiny cubes of firm tofu, which gave the sauce varied texture, while the edamame provided a fresh touch.
Just because it's not a green bean house that doesn't mean the dumpling house skimped on the sides. These green beans sautéed with garlic were seasoned to perfection. In fact, they made me lose sight of the dumplings for a few minutes.
Porkaboo! These pretty pillows are buns filled with pork meatballs and then steamed. Every fold of every dumpling and bun was perfection--a work of art.
There were also sweet dumplings for dessert, but by this point we were ready to roll out the door like beach balls. Maybe next time we'll get one less order of savory dumplings and save room for the sweet. And then maybe not. Once you get started it's so easy to say, "Just one more...oh, and that looks good, too..."