Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Din Tai Fung, Again

There was palpable excitement in the food centric corners of LA when an outpost of the venerated Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung opened in the area back in the early 2000s. An immediate success, it wasn't too long before DTF opened a second "fancier" (and bigger) spot just around the corner from the original shop in Arcadia. Last year the chain expanded again -- further from a steady East Asian clientele into Glendale -- in the high end Americana mall. Settled in among Kate Spade and Tiffany's, DTF now caters to busy shoppers and offers an alternative (and valet parking) to area diners looking for something other than the excellent middle Eastern and so-so chain restaurants already in the area.
Fifteen years ago DTF was not my favorite dumpling spot and it still isn't. In general I prefer a thin rice paper wrapper to sturdier wheat. But really there is nothing wrong with the chain's dumplings and I've eaten them in Arcadia, Shanghai (under protest), and now Glendale. It seems that the new location has tried to refine their dishes and service to make new customers more comfortable. My Steamed rice pork bun -- usually served wrapped in a leaf and tied with kitchen twine came to the table unwrapped and naked on a plate. Not flavored with pungent Chinese sausage, but filled with a not too chili braised pork. Fine but not special. 
Though I have rarely ventured from the soup dumplings at DTF today I opted for pork and shrimp wontons in spicy sauce. I'm not sure I'd call the sauce spicy even by white folks standards but I liked it. I'd go back for more. And soup dumplings -- you can order a half order which is nice for a smaller crowd to try different flavors -- were, as always, dependable.
Dumplings have come a long way since the only place to get quality xiao long bao in LA was at a small collection of sticky table dives in the SGV and honestly I still prefer the slightly lesser known outposts -- if for nothing else than my eater's pride. It's hard to trade fantasies of Chinese grandmothers' work hardened hands deftly rolling delicate dough for the plate glass window view of very Western college kids wearing chef's jackets in Glendale. But when a lengthy drive isn't in the cards and your dinner companion might want a glass of wine with wontons -- DTF might just be the place.

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