Saturday, November 6, 2010

One of the Top Ten Restaurants in the World According to the New York Times

My brother's wife, Wendy, is originally from Taiwan, and since she knows of Murat's preference for dumplings, she wanted to take us to the Dumpling House that has been lauded as 'One of the Worlds' Top Ten Restaurants' by the New York Times.  She explained to us that the original Din Tai Fung was very close to their house in Taipei and they used to go there for dumpling very frequently until the New York Times article turned it into a major attraction and the wait became unacceptable.  Honestly the wait at this branch in Arcadia, California was quite ridiculous as well but we were already there and Prometheus was sound asleep so our curiosity won over our common sense and we waited.  

We were in Arcadia because earlier we went to visit the campus of California Institute of Technology - 'Caltech' - a dream school if there ever was one. Arcadia and Pasadena are 15 minutes from each other and since we were already 40 minutes out of LA, we thought to get as much as possible in for this area.

After driving around Pasadena till the sunset. we picked up Wendy and Pro and headed to the Dumpling House.  The crowd outside the restaurant was a little disconcerting but Wendy insisted we had to try this, so we put our name on the 45 minute waiting list.  Inside the restaurant was a madhouse, there was so much activity it was impossible to follow the food leaving the kitchen and going to the tables.  With Wendy's intervention, we were seated at a table in half an hour.  On our table was a small checklist of the foods that were available.  We were lucky to have Wendy with us because basically we went with her suggestions and it turned out to be perfect.
XIAOLONGBAO (Taiwanese small steamed buns)

The specialty of the house xiaolongbao, is different than a Chinese Dumpling because the bun is much thinner and there is a great juice that accompanies the pork filling.  You are suppose to eat these by putting them in a Chinese spoon and then topping them with their special vinegar.  There is no easy way to eat these in my opinion since you have to be able to pick up the dumplings with chopsticks out of a spoon, bite into them without burning your tongue with the hot juices gushing out and dip it again into the vinegar back in the spoon.  But it is worth every bit of the struggle.  I especially liked the fact that it was so juicy and not so doughy.  
Shrimp Dumpling

These were my favorites, you got a mouthful of shrimp.  I prefer these to the pork dumplings but I am a seafood person.  
Besides the dumplings we ordered some other items from the menu/list.  One given at any Chinese Restaurant with my husband is Hot and Sour Soup.  He absolutely has to try it wherever he goes.  Although, I don't think he has met a hot and sour soup he hasn't liked, he said the soup here was really excellent.
Hot and Sour Soup

When I was staying with Wendy after she had Prometheus, she fixed me up a wonderful dish with rice cakes, chicken and vegetables.  I loved it , so when she saw that they had a dish with rice cakes on the menu she suggested we order it.  I devoured the whole thing almost by myself.  Rice cakes have a very interesting texture that goes very well in a dish such as these where they don't dominate but help to emphasize the flavors of the other ingredients.  I liked it so much, I tried to make some at home but was not successful.  I think I need to find a restaurant on the East coast that has them on their menu so that I could go there to eat them whenever I got the craving.
Shanghai Rice cake with Pork

Mostly the rice cakes can be seen in this photo, they resemble bamboo shoots in appearance when first seen in a dish.

Sesame noodles are my brothers favorite and I was surprised to realize I had never tried them before.  This is a cold dish with a sauce that reminded me of tahini, (not very surprising since tahini is sesame paste.)  This is a dish that should be tried in small doses because although it is very tasty, I think it is also a very strong dish.
Everything we tried was excellent and it was worth the wait.  
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House
1108 S. Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Tel  626-574-7068

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