Note (11/22/10): Din Tai Fung has opened. Please read my challenging update.
A friend with Eastside restaurant knowledge told me first, and then a representative from the restaurant just confirmed it: Din Tai Fung (famous for its xiao long bao, pictured to the right, courtesy of Din Tai Fung) is apparently coming to the Seattle area.
Knowing the food scene here, knowledge of Din Tai Fung’s arrival will be cause for every food lover in Seattle to have a simultaneous orgasm – first when the news hits Twitter, and next when groups gather upon the restaurant’s opening. Hint to Din Tai Fung: Come up with a kitschy, catchy name for a party, like Din Tai Fun-Time, and no matter how much you charge, food followers will flock to the event. Trust me on this.
Seattleites have been desperately waiting for good xiao long bao to come the area. I’m one of them. I’ve even taken to making my own (pictured below), rolling out dough to do wrappers, using pig skin to gelatinize the soup inside, and coming up with a tasty pork belly filling. It’s a lot of work, and my dumplings are far more rustic than the delicate ones found in Taipei – which is why I’d rather fly to Taiwan (which I’ve done twice!) than make them at home. (Xiao long bao first appeared in Shanghai, but while I liked them there, they’re better in Taipei.)
Din Tai Fung’s challenge: How to make the xiao long bao as great in Seattle as they are in Taipei. Something seems to get lost in translation when food like this travels far. Beard Papa’s cream puffs in Seattle, for example, are not nearly as compelling as the ones you find in Tokyo. The same problem surfaces with my favorite xiao long bao in Taipei, which are from Jin Din Rou. Last month, I saw that Jin Din Rou was in Tokyo, so I pounced on the chance to try them. But the quality was worse. I think part of the problem is that the Tokyo (Ebisu) location was far fancier than the locations in Taipei.
(Actually, my favorite xiao long bao are the crab-and-pork variety at Joe’s Shanghai, which originated in New York. They just opened a branch in Tokyo, but I fear the fancy decor comes at the expense of the quality. Just compare the dumpling quality between Joe’s Shanghai in Midtown Manhattan versus either the Chinatown or Flushing locations. Midtown wasn’t nearly as good.)
I’m told that Din Tai Fung will open later this year in Lincoln Square Mall. (Further proof that just about all of the best Chinese food is on the Eastside.) Will a high-rent district like that again mean lower dumpling quality? Or will the jump over the Pacific makes the dumplings less perfect? Perhaps more important, will the local food world care? After all, for many, it’s not about the quality of the orgasm, but just having one…
Continuing Lorna’s theme, I’d say Din Tai Fung has the thinnest, most delicate wrapper. Jin Din Rou’s are a little thicker (which I might actually like better), and with better broth taste and more porky flavor. Joe’s Shanghai has the thickest wrappers of the three, but I can’t resist the combination of their crab and pork broth. In Richmond, I liked the thinness of Shanghai River’s small xiao long bao, but preferred Chen’s broth. Hope to get back to Richmond for further analysis!