Thursday, August 27, 2015


One floor up in a shopping mall in Bellevue.  One door over from Lucky Strike arcade and game pavilion.   One hour long wait.  One Michelin star.

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.

We had to try the most popular dumpling- DTF's pork  XiaoLongBao.  There are quite a few techniques for eating soup dumplings.  I prefer the whole-hog (no pun intended) tactic, but this always runs the risk of de-skinning the roof of your mouth.  You can nip a tiny puncture in the wrapper and unleash the juices into the wide porcelain spoons, or else cut into it pre-, but then you lose all the treasured soup.  However you manage, these are supreme renditions of the marvel.  Super porky but ungreasy, the skin just supple enough to withhold its fillings and surrender to your teeth.  Each one is pleated with a minimum of 18 folds, sealing in its flavorful filling and creating the perfect density.   I was REALLY tempted to get the truffled pork variety, but it seemed a bit blasphemous in the face of a Michelin starred Taiwanese, so I kept to the classics.  But shrimp and gourd could've been equally delectable.  Soup dumplings, flavorful enough on their own, are served with separate crocks of soy and black vinegar, recommended by our waitress to use in a respective 2:1 ratio, but even at my table there was variance from 1:4 to 4:1, so tailor to your own liking.

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.

700 Bellevue Way NE #280
Bellevue, WA 98004
Tel: (425) 698-1095

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