Din Tai Fung is the Taiwanese mini-chain of superb dumpling purveyors that began as a cooking oil retail store in 1958, burgeoning into a full-service restaurant in 1972, and has now flourished in ten different countries. Their specialty is the dumplings, and to enter the Bellevue location you'll pass the glass-enclosed station where a team of several focused individuals roll and wrap the dough into their compact little purses. They hardly break to recognize the captize audience of wait-listed diners-to-be, menus in hand, to decide from the lengthy list of selections as their table is readied. You'll have plenty of time to decide: this place is popular and waits over an hour are the norm. If you're anything like us, it could take you the full duration to decide upon fillings and accoutrements .
Obviously the dumplings are their raison d'etre, but nothing here is an afterthought. Vegetables are fresh and well-seasoned; spinach is garlicky and broccoli a toothsome emerald. Hot and sour soup sang
both characteristics emphatically- notably hot in both senses, the temperature furthering emphasizing it sassy tang. Shreds of tofu and mushroom augment the viscous broth, while sprightly flecks of green onion bob atop. Little icons help illustrate potentially controversial attributes of menu items: a small cow or pig denotes its meat component, and a red chili warns of heat. The soup had its fair share of fire, for sure, but it was nothing demonic.
From "Noodles & Wontons" (each dumpling shape has a different name) we tried the Vegetable and Pork Wonton with a Spicy Sauce. The wontons are of the crescent-shaped variety, slicked in a spicy vermillion oil studded with fried bits of onion. I think I liked these more than the famed soup dumplings, but then again, I'm all about sauce.
Unlike your typical Chinese or other Asian joint, Din Tai Fung offers dessert, but we still had a long haul of a drive ahead of us, and after the hour + long wait just to be fed, I'm afraid the clock was ticking. Plus, the sweets are more starchy delights: from cakey filled buns and intriguing XaoLongBao stuffed with sweet taro or red bean paste, to sticky rice concoctions variously flavored. If I ever make it back to a Din Tai Fung, where I might find it, I'm definitely hitting that sweet taro XaoLongBao. While that Bao probably wasn't the one that clinched the Michelin, it's still piqued my curiosity. Until then.