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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.