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Oh Please, Pretty Please, Din Tai Fung—PLEASE Come to SF!

A few days before Christmas my nephew and his wife treated me to dinner at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia (store #2 at 1088 S. Baldwin Ave).

My only previous Din Tai Fung experience (in Beijing in 2007) was one of those Wow! restaurant experiences that take a cherished spot in my memory. On that occasion I was suffering some stomach distress (not uncommon for me when I travel) and I planned to have plain steamed rice and tea (my usual remedy) and perhaps just try a single XLB to see what they were like. I ended up eating as many dumplings as my friends and my stomach ache was cured in the process. I had expected the crab or crab+pork versions to be my favorites, but the pure pork was the most magnificent. I had been wondering ever since if they really could be as special as I remembered. I've had some pretty good XLB in the Bay Area, with good flavor, thin skins and lots of soup, so how much better could those at Din Tai Fung have been?

A lot better, as I discovered in Arcadia. The flavor was somehow delicate and intense at the same time. The variable texture had nice contrasts and was overall softer than most. I don't know how they do it but the result is head and shoulders above the best I've had in the Bay Area. There are occasional rumors that DTF is planning a branch in SF but it never comes to fruition. I will keep hoping.

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  1. I couldn't second that emotion more!Ate at the Din Tai Fung,Yu Garden Branch,in Shanghai this past October.I have always wanted to try XLB however don't eat pork.Their shrimp and vegetable versions were delectable with delicate thin skins and bursting soup,made to order.Love that you can watch the chefs hand making the dumplings through their glassed in dumpling station.They also have a double boiled chicken soup made with the prized black chicken.Delicious,clean,great service and trendy ambience.Just watched a TV show featuring the mother location in Taipei,Taiwan.I would love a Bay Area location.Read while in Shanghai that the next US opening will be in Costa Mesa CA.

    3 Replies
    1. re: casalbore spirit

      The XLB I had at the Shanghai branch were really good and much better than the ones at Yank Sing. I didn't think the ones at the Arcadia branch were that good however. Maybe I went on an off day.

      1. re: calumin

        I had a similar experience with the LA location - it really wasn't appreciably better than what I could find locally at a good spot, and it paled in comparison to anything I could find in Hong Kong.

        Although DTF isn't coming, the Bay Area's getting a Crystal Jade in 2014. I haven't been to this specific Crystal Jade concept before and don't know it'll "translate" when it comes here, but the XLB's I've had at the Crystal Jade La Mien XLB branches in Hong Kong have always been on the mark.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/901793

        1. re: Jon914

          There are now two Arcadia locations-- they took me to the one they like best. The XLB were even better than my local favorites, Yank Sing's, though I think I may prefer Yank Sing's vinegar to what I had at DTF.

    2. You know I was at the DTF in PEK more recently than I've been to YANK SING (Rincon) but I certainly dont remember DTF >> YS.

      Have not been to DTF in So Cal so I dont know about price/quality comparisons. I dont think its fair to compare >$30 meal at YS with more modest/hole-in-the-wall XLB places.

      So isnt YS "good enough"? Although certainly I'd welcome a local DTF too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: psb

        The Asia menu and ingredients is totally different than the US menu.

      2. you wanna start a franchise? :)

        the one in seattle basically came about because some guy missed them so much...

        18 Replies
        1. re: vulber

          Love that thought!Have never had Bay Area dumplings that delicate!Also love that the DTF rep when explaining the 18 fold dumpling technique said that less then would be soggy and more than would not taste good.Perfect dumplings!For me Yank Sing in SF and Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland,don't even compare.

          1. re: casalbore spirit

            The DTF in Seattle/Bellevue is pretty meh. Waits can be 2 hours or more and in that time I can WALK to 2 or 3 restaurants with better overall food...and I don't think their soup dumplings are markedly better than Yank Sing (although it has been 3 years since the last time I ate at Yank Sing).

            1. re: marcyfitz

              Curious what you think is better than DTF in Bellevue? Chinese food is mediocre at best in the Seattle area and unless you are driving to Vancouver, BC, there isn't anything close in quality.

              1. re: DiggyK

                Just in walking distance, i like both Facing East and Bamboo Garden better. If I'm driving I also like Shanghai Garden in Factoria and Cafe Ori (although that is more Hong Kong cafe food). I used to split my time between Bellevue and Vancouver for work and agree that there is better Chinese food in Vancouver, but that is a loooong drive for lunch. There is one spinach dish at DTF that is really excellent but I am not waiting 2 hrs for spinach. Nothing else at DTF really stood out for me.

              2. re: marcyfitz

                Went to the Bellevue location. Arrived just as they were opening for lunch and walked right in.

                I don't know why anyone would compare Yank Sing (Cantonese) to DTF (Shanghainese).

                1. re: c oliver

                  They both have many different dishes,however the XLB(soup dumplings) is a common one,though executed differently.Actually having branches in Shanghai,Beijing,Singapore and other parts of the world,Din Tai Fung is a chain from Taiwan,not Shanghai.

                  1. re: casalbore spirit

                    Sorry, I miswrote. Should have said Taiwanese. I've never heard that XLB are Cantonese. I only started seeing them at dim sum places when they seemed to get so trendy. I've only tried them once, maybe twice, at dim sum because I was so disappointed. The ones I made, which far inferior to 'real' XLB, were far superior to the dim sum ones. IMHO of course.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      XLB ARE Shanghainese.DTF just happens to have started in Taiwan and does a very delicate and delicious thin skinned slightly different type of soup dumpling.Have never seen any as refined in the Bay Area,no matter where.It appears the China location's dumplings are superior to their North American locations.

                      1. re: casalbore spirit

                        I'm clearly not communicating well! My point was that I've not understood why dim sum places serve XLB at all. Again, maybe cause they've become trendy.

                        Attached are pix from DTF in Bellevue.

                         
                         
                        1. re: c oliver

                          Why dim sum places serve XLB? My guess is because they are delicious and most Cantonese Dim sum places are not so dogmatic that they would exclude a popular dish just because it's from Shanghai. We saw them at all the Dim sum places we visited in Taipe and Hong Kong. In Shanghai we were blown away by a variation I have never seen. Like big seared XLB with a thicker more toothsome skin.

                          1. re: Ridge

                            Those "big seared XLB with a thicker more toothsome skin" are called Sheng Jian Bao which are quite popular in Shanghai as well.

                            1. re: baron45

                              Here are the Sheng Jian Bao we had in Shanghai. Amazing!

                               
                              1. re: Ridge

                                I see you made it to Xiao Yang which has quite a following. Somehow, the ones made there taste a whole lot better than anything made here.

                                Perhaps it's that huge round flat pan on high heat with all the oil that does the trick. They just can't seem to replicate the dough's texture here in the US. The ones I've had here are either too chewy or too hard.

                                 
                                1. re: baron45

                                  Yes! It was fantstic. Not only the dumplings but we also got this sour spicy soup that was a revelation.

                                2. re: Ridge

                                  I had some awesome SJB at Emperor Noodle in SGV in LA a few months ago (and a few good ones in Shanghai over the years). Love 'em.

                                  Need to gear up for a south bay SJB search. Pointers appreciated.

                              2. re: Ridge

                                Okay, I see your rationale. But in my very limited experience, XLB as part of a dim sum place has been disappointing. I've only had them there on a cart service (which is never my fave anyway) so if cooked to order somewhere they'd certainly be better.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  I agree they often are mediocre at most Dim Sum places. I do enjoy the ones at Koi palace, on my way there now.

                                  1. re: Ridge

                                    Which is a place we haven't hit yet. We no longer live in the city and only get to visit a couple of times a year. Thanks for the tip.

              3. If the Bay Area gets Din Tai Fung with the Asia menu, it'll be a terrific addition. we had a great tasting meal at around $20 in Hong Kong last year. the classic pork XLB was the best. the noddle was good as well. the wait was terrible (2 hours on a friday evening). its hard to say whether any XLB in the bay area compares because everyone's style is different. Although I also enjoy the homey version at Panda Dumpling in San Carlos.

                1. Another second for a SF outpost. DTF has just opened its third branch in Southern California--in a glitzy mall in Glendale. Here's a link to Jonathan Gold's discerning review in the LA Times:

                  http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-gol...

                  I've been to the Shanghai and Hong Kong outposts and was amazed at how much better the XLB were than anything I've had in San Francisco (including Shanghai Dumpling King, my current local favorite) and how consistent the quality was between the two kitchens. The Gold review is spot-on about the perfection of the wrappers--delicately thin with exquisite pleating but none of them leak or spurt on delivery from steamer basket to mouth.

                  1. Another thread discussed how DTF technically serves Tang Bao rather than Xiao Long Bao. : http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9238...

                    I don't think there's anything striving for Tang Bao in the Bay Area. The closest I've come was at a meal at Shanghai Dumpling Shop in Millbrae where the dumplings had the right amount of sag underneath the chopsticks, but looking at online photos, I'm not sure they have the desired consistency. In terms of the insides of the pork dumpling, I was just as pleased at DTF as some of the upper tier places in the Bay Area.

                    1. About 5 years ago I had XLBs at DTF in Arcadia and at Shanghai Dumpling King within a week span. SDK's XLB were better. Sadly I don't think that's the case any longer. Any way, a DTF in the Bay Area would be nice.

                      p.s. I thought the second DTF in the LA area was at the Americana (sister to the Grove) in Pasadena. Or would that be a third?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: ML8000

                        There are two DTFs in Alhambra (now the mecca for Chinese restaurants, grocers, etc.); the third just opened in the Americana mall in Glendale (see the Jonathan Gold article that I linked above).

                        1. re: dordogne

                          The first two are in Arcadia, not Alhambra. They're also adjacent to each other!

                          1. re: bouncepass

                            Yes, I stand corrected (all those A----- burbs).

                      2. Would love a DTF in the Bay Area. My experience is that the quality of DTF varies depending on the location. All the ones I visited in Taipei were phenomenal but the branch I visited in Singapore was phenomenally mediocre. Have heard mixed reports about the LA branches.

                        1. Wow I am surprised to see the number of mentions for SHANGHAI DUMPLING KING in what I assume is the "best of breed" setting rather than price/perf or "good for what it is" ...

                          I have nothing against SDK and indeed have been there a dozen times and have turned on other people to the place, but it doesnt seem like a serious comparison to the high-end places. I assume the higher end places use better quality meat and I am quite sure they have better quality control ... in my moderate experience with SDK, i often get some fraction of XLB which are DOA (broken/soup drained out) ... I assume at a hole-in-the-wall modest joint you really arent entitled to complain about that ... dunno what I'd do about DOA XLB at a DTF/YS-type place. Is there a norm for this, like getting a corked wine?

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: psb

                            Please reveal: where do you find consistent and consistently better XLB in the Bay Area, high end or otherwise? Love the "DOA" characterization, which is a problem with at least one dumpling out of every steamer basket at SDK.

                            1. re: dordogne

                              Again, I havent been to YANK SING in a while but they are good albeit expensive ... I'd say at least $35 to have a "full meal" there.

                              I havent had any quality control failures there either.

                              But both price data and quality data are a few yrs out of date for me.

                              1. re: dordogne

                                The only XLB I have tried in the Bay Area that approaches XLB I have had in Asia is the XLB at KOI PALACE (I have not tried the ones at Shanghai dumpling King.Its very rare to encounter a DOA soup dumpling at Koi Palace. Honestly I don't see the appeal of Yank Sing at all. The XLB there are probably one of the best items on their menu but that is not saying much.

                              2. re: psb

                                It's obviously subjective but like I posted already, had SDK and DTF within a week of each other and SDK was clearly better for XLBs. Also the other dishes at SDK were better than DTF. The non-XLB stuff at DTF was only okay. The crab XLBs at DTF were disappointing.

                                I don't know if this is still the case given SDK was sold to new owners and the reports are inconsistent.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Some matters of taste are subjective but some of the QA factors, e.g. the XLB DOA ratio isnt ... I dunno if higher end places inspect the XLB at the "pass" to make sure they arent broken/drained, but that doesnt seem implausble.

                                  In my experience at modest places pork + crab XLB = pork XLB ... except for leaving your $1-2 poorer. The only place I can think of where I was able to taste a bit of difference may have been at KUNG FU XLB. My friends said "oh yeah, the crab ones are way better" but I thought it was only slightly better.

                                  I dont recall if I had any of the fancy seafood XLB at DTF in PEK. I do recall a conversation on CH about some other place in asia where you paid an arm and leg for the seafood enhanced version and the fellow mentioning this swore "the difference is inescapable" ... although whether or not the price was worth it is of course subjective.

                                  I generally dissuade my friends from ordering the pork+crab at SDK ... now if there was a pure crab, that might be interesting ... it could be good or bad, but presumably would NOT taste just like the pork ones.

                                  pre-change-of-owner, I thought the only awful thing at SDK was something from the usual chinese resto repertoire which wasnt really in their core competency. so that was to some extent a case of joint negligence/should have known better.

                                  also i've wondered if on some visits to SDK at off hours (in the area for hike/museum and stopping in for a snack at non-crowded, non-meal hours) if we were dealing with older product/second string staff ... again the variability there has been huge.

                                  1. re: psb

                                    Honestly at $6 bucks for 10, the QA thing about DOA XLBs is a little nuts. If they were a buck or two per piece, or priced like sushi or even expensive dim sum I could see it. However, at those prices, it's just the way things are. They are delicate dumplings with thin skin, full of hot liquid...they're going to break. Also, broken XLB could be about how long you let them sit there.

                                    1. re: ML8000

                                      Let us review: re QA/DOA XLB ...
                                      "I assume at a hole-in-the-wall modest joint you really arent entitled to complain about that ... dunno what I'd do about DOA XLB at a DTF/YS-type place."

                                      I was using the GOOG to see if I could find out how much the XLB at YS were. Came across this paragraph in an article a couple of yrs old ... I'm the one who started out saying "it's not fair to compare a $-place with a $$$-place"!

                                      ===================================
                                      Having said all that, it really wasn’t bad at all; in fact, it was really quite delicious. It didn’t quite make the “80% as good as Yank Sing” mark, but in my humble opinion, it reached about 70% as good. Factor in the fact that it costs about 30% of the cost of the Shanghai Dumplings at Yank Sing, which are $12.50 for six, whereas Shanghai Dumpling King offered ten for $5.50, and you have a homerun! (The photo of Yank Sing’s dumplings were taken from this blog. As you can see, the skin is truly delicate — and these ARE piping hot!
                                      ====================================

                                    2. re: psb

                                      The other discussion about XLB was I think me on crab and pork and there was definitely crab, and an arm and a leg was about I think about $6 in Tokyo. They were good.

                                2. You might be interested in this profile of Din Tai Fung from Pasadena Magazine. Interestingly, threads on Din Tai Fung on the LA board suggest that their choice of locations are governed by astrology/feng shui principles. I mentioned this to the author and she actually addressed the issue in the article. Still their choice of locations doesn't comport with typical business practices. Two locations in Arcadia are steps from each other and their other two locations are in Seattle. Then for their next two locations they choose two of the most upscale regional malls in the Los Angeles area, the Glendale Americana and Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza, neither city having heretofore been able to support a single authentic Chinese restaurant. Meanwhile the Bay Area and New York are clamoring without success for their own branches.

                                  http://www.pasadenamonthly.com/articl...