Din Tai Fung (Arcadia, CA)

Din Tai Fung
1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Dining date: 7/30/11

Din Tai Fung is the type of restaurant I hear about even when I go home to San Francisco. “Have you heard of this restaurant in Arcadia…” or “you should try this dumpling place called Din Tai Fung.” It’s no wonder why – with three locations in the US and branches all over Asia and in Australia, it’s arguably the most famous place in SoCal to get dumplings (xiao long bao in particular).

Needless to say, a restaurant like this comes with pretty high expectations (and long lines). I’ve found almost everyone fits into one of two camps: love it, or find it overrated and overpriced. If you were to ask me where I fell a couple years ago it was probably the latter; however, today I would say it’s closer to the former.

Upon entering, you can see fresh dumplings being made. Love that.

House Chicken Noodle Soup (Steamed)

This might be my favorite item here. The chicken broth is perfect with its well-salted, hearty chicken flavor. The noodles, made fresh, have a delectable chew. It’s really simple, but it’s something that really resonates with me.

Shanghai Rice Cake with Chicken

I liked the nice chew to the rice cakes, lightly coated in a sauce that I think was oyster sauce. Some onions lended a little bit of fresh crunch too. 

Juicy Pork Dumplings

The pièce de résistance – xiao long bao. The best xiao long bao in LA is a controversial argument…mine are here. The dumplings are always filled with a rich, savory juice but it’s the skin that separates these for me. Thin, stretchy and delicate, I really liked that the dough took backseat to the meat and juice with these dumplings.

Shrimp & Pork Dumplings

I liked these as well. Plump pieces of shrimp made up the bulk of the filling, as well as a little bit of the juice.

Vegetarian Dumplings

I found these to be just okay. Relative to their meaty counterparts, I found these dumplings to be rather dry with a dense, woodsy flavor. Probably pretty healthy, though.

Sauteed String Beans with Garlic

Tasty garlic string beans, cooked quickly in a wok. I liked the gentle texture still left in the beans, but I don’t think these were a uniquely better example though.

Noodles with Spicy Sauce


Love the noodles here. They were smothered in a sweet-spicy sauce that I enjoyed.

The perfect dessert was a milk tea from the nearby Ten Ren’s Tea Time. I’m very picky about my milk teas, but this one is one of my favorites.

Din Tai Fung definitely does not present the best value in the SGV as most of their items are at the upper end of their respective price ranges. However, I think the execution is top-notch, and they serve some of my favorite noodles and dumplings in the city. And given the oft-long lines, it’s hard to say they’re charging too much for the food.

China Poblano (Las Vegas, NV)

China Poblano
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Dining date: 3/27/11

China Poblano is probably Jose Andres’ most unexpected concept. When I first heard about this place, I thought he was going to be creating Chinese-Mexican fusion. Dude. Weird. However, that’s not the case. The cuisines are kept separate here, just presented together. That means Chinese noodles, dim sum and other small plates served side-by-side with Mexican tacos, ceviches and guacamole. How would this work?

Andres is shooting for authenticity here – I’m sure I’m not the only Asian person really skeptical about this. He’s got help though; Andres has hired (imported) chefs from Mexico and China to help him out.

We started with the “cold tea.”

Cold “Tea” for Two a punch-like creation of green tea, tequila, and beer

I thought the tequila was rather strong in this. It just wasn’t noteworthy at all.

Happy Buddha Vegetable Spring Roll cucumber, carrot, zucchini, water chestnuts

We started with these vegetarian imperial rolls. These were okay, nothing special.

Shrimp Mojo shrimp, sweet black garlic, roasted poblano peppers

The shrimp here were cooked well, with a  nice depth of flavor from the garlic. The poblano was a tasty accompaniment as well.

Like Water for Chocolate fried quail, dragon fruit, rose petals, chestnut, dragon fruit sauce

This was one of the strongest dishes of the evening. The skin of the quail was quite crispy, while the meat was juicy and flavorful. The dragon fruit added a refreshing sweetness, which went really well with the quail.

Swallow a Cloud Hong Kong wonton, shrimp/pork, bok choy

Next was our $16 wonton noodle soup. I thought the filling of the wonton was soft like it was pureed to a very smooth texture – I would’ve preferred to still have a little bit of density. However, the flavors were there and the noodles were pretty good. The light chicken broth was the perfect soup.

Dan Dan Mien hand-cut wheat noodles, spicy pork sauce

I haven’t had a dan dan noodle dish since Lukshon’s highly controversial one. I found the noodles to be fairly mushy, and the flavors of the sauce to be muddled. I didn’t get a lot of pork flavor, nor was there any spice really. Odd.

We also ordered up a few orders of tacos at $9 a pair.

Pescado Frito fried fish, Mexican salsa

The fish of the day was mahi mahi. The fish was fried perfectly – delicately crispy with light, moist flesh. There was a little bit of heat here too, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pollo a la Parrilla grilled chicken, mole sauce

Next was this chicken taco. The mole was pretty good, though the chicken wasn’t too moist…I wouldn’t quite call it dry though.

Barbacoa del Res Oaxacan-style barbecue beef, guajillo chile, pickled cactus paddle

The barbacoa taco (shredded beef) taco was quite good, though a bit on the oily side.  I thought the onions and poblano added some welcome flavor, though.

Carnitas braised baby pig, pork rinds, spicy salsa verde cruda

This was easily my favorite taco, and one of the best I’ve had in the recent past.  Tender, moist pork was topped with crunchy chicharrones and a salsa verde. Everything here was executed well – extra flavor and crunch from the chicharrones, as well as from the salsa verde made for some delicious bites.

There were misses, but in all, I was pleasantly surprised with the food. I don’t consider myself anywhere near an authority for Chinese or Mexican food. Anyone who is looking for really authentic Asian or Mexican – look off the strip. The food here was tasty, and for the most part, had the Chinese and Mexican flavors I was looking for. It was on the expensive side, but I understand there is a premium for being on the strip, as well as for having Jose Andres’ name on it…even if this isn’t the type of food people typically associate him with.

WP24 – 9/1/10

The Ritz-Carlton
900 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90015

I’m often skeptical about “upscale Chinese.” Many of my favorite Chinese restaurants are very reasonably priced, so I have to think twice (or a few times) about spending triple-digits on a Chinese meal.  WP24 is Wolfgang Puck’s latest foray into Chinese cuisine, located on the 24th floor of the new Ritz Carlton in downtown LA. I had been to his now-legendary Chinois on Main maybe seven years ago, and I found it somewhat unimpressive.  However, reviews for WP24 have been very strong, and I’ve had an urge to try it.

The restaurant offers some of the best views of downtown LA. Unfortunately, the skies were really cloudy on this day, but you get the picture.

Two tasting menus are offered; one at $130 and a “Dynasty Menu” at $160. An a la carte menu is an option; however, since there were only two of us, we thought the tasting menu would be the best way to sample what the kitchen has to offer. This tasting menu was a ton of food – the waiter even admitted that it was too much, and the “Dynasty Menu,” at two more savory courses, was just plain ill-advised.

“Several Tastes of Good Fortune”

We first started with a number of amuse bouche-like small bites.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn Toast with Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce

This was delicious, and reminded me of these shrimp toasts I eat every Thanksgiving.  The crispy toast and moist shrimp make for a great bite, with the chili sauce adding a subtle sweetness and spiciness.

Spring Rolls of Lobster and 10-Spice Santa Barbara Prawns

I enjoyed these as well. The rolls were densely packed with the lobster and shrimp, yet it was still very moist. Nicely cooked, the crispy exterior added some great texture.

Curried Seafood Turnovers

The small bites just kept on coming at this point! These turnovers were flaky, with an interior flavored of mild ginger and curry.

Duck Liver Buns with Hoisin Sauce

At this point, I was wondering when the “first course” would end – however, I was excited to have them keep coming! I initially had mistaken this for foie gras, but it’s actually “regular” duck liver (without the force feeding). The seared liver was paired with these buns, instead of Peking duck or pork belly – which is typically seen. The foie gras had a nice, melt-in-mouth texture, with the cucumbers adding a fresh crunch to the dish. The hoisin sauce added just a little bit of sweetness to round it out.

Early Summer Sweet Corn & King Crab “Hot & Sour” Soup Sweet Prawn Wontons, Roasted Sweet Corn, Thai Basil, Fried Ginger

This was a pretty solid soup. A good variation on the traditional hot & sour soup found in Chinese restaurants is heightened with the sweetness of roasted sweet corn and lumps of fresh crab meat. I enjoyed the shrimp wonton as well.

Today’s Dim Sum Plate Chive Crystal Dumpling, Dan Dan Dumpling, Tiny Dumpling, Beef Chow Fueng, Suckling Pig with Plum Glaze

Next we were presented a sampling of dim sum. From left to right, these were a chive crystal dumpling, sichuan dan dan dumpling, crispy suckling pig, beef cheek chow fun, and a potsticker. The chive and shrimp dumpling was perfectly cooked, though I thought the mustard was a little strong for it. The dan dan dumpling was good as well, but the suckling pig was phenomenal. Some of the best roast pork I’ve had in fact. The meat was succulent, moist and exceedingly tender. The skin was very crispy, making this an extraordinary piece to this dish. The “chow fun” (somewhat inappropriately named, as this was more of a “cheung fun”) and potsticker were also very solid renditions. Overall, I was rather impressed, especially with the pork.

Live Maine “Angry Lobster” Spicy Szechuan Chilies, Fried Garlic, Calamansi Lime, Black Bean Dust, Lop Cheung Sausage Fried Rice

The lobster was presented whole, then carved tableside. The lobster meat was cooked very well, keeping it juicy and succulent. The sauce was not too spicy, and the dish came with a fried rice that was very good. It was a pretty significant portion too, with each person getting a full bowl.

Whole Roasted Duckling “Peking Style” with Traditional Garnishes Summer Harvest White Sweet Corn, Fresh Chilies, Scallions, Basil

Next was this Peking duck, a classic dish. For the most part, this stuck to the traditional preparation. The duck was brought over whole, and then the breasts were carved. The skin was crispy and the meat perfectly cooked. However, I thought the sauce was rather strong. Good duck is hard to beat, though.

The duck was accompanied by the traditional soft, warm buns, as well as a myriad of options to fill the buns with, including scallions, cucumbers, radish and hoisin sauce. The fresh vegetables were critical in cutting the richness of the duck and sauce.

This roasted white corn came with the dish. Excellent.  The corn was very sweet and, combined with some spice from chilies, made for a great side dish.

I loved the touch of having a hot towel after this dish!

Grilled Lamb Chop Lacquered with Ginseng Honey & Chinese Mustard Coriander-Pickled Ginger Sauce, Fresh Chilies & Aromatics, Hunan Spicy Eggplant

The last savory dish of the meal was this lamb. Tender and flavorful, the meat was cooked perfectly. A good crust formed on the exterior, which was really nice.

The lamb came with a spicy eggplant dish. I found the eggplant to be cooked well, though fairly flavorless…which I found surprising.

Plum Sorbet with Coconut “Explosion”

This was the first dessert. Pineapple crisps were at the base of the sorbet, providing a nice textural element to go along with the fresh, strong flavor of the plum sorbet. The coconut “explosion,” with its jelly-like exterior and liquid interior, was refreshing and a great burst of flavor. It reminded me of something I’ve had at the Bazaar and Providence.

Warm Yellow Peach Fondant Crumble Market Raspberries, Madagascar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Next was this warm crumble with a really good, strong vanilla ice cream. I loved the warm-cold interplay of this dish, as well as the textures of the crumble with the ice cream.

Lastly, we finished the meal with a plate of roasted almond crisp and almond cookies.

We were pretty full by this point (seriously, it’s a ton of food), but the crisp was quite light and mildly sweet. I would say the same for the cookie – I wouldn’t have minded a bag of these to take home!

I was pretty satisfied, impressed even, by the meal. It was by far the most expensive Chinese meal I have had, but each dish was executed well and, most importantly, was delicious. I wonder if the restaurant would ever consider opening on the weekends for dim sum and small plates, as I think it could be pretty successful in doing that. I would totally come back for the suckling pig! Having said that, the more entree-like dishes were very good as well, and I would come back for that…however, probably only if there was a BlackboardEats-like discount (or if someone else was paying), as the price is definitely steep. I think the restaurant would benefit from doing a lower-priced tasting menu with less food, as this menu was more than enough for me.

Dean Sin World – 4/10/10

Dean Sin World
306 N Garfield Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754

Dean Sin World is a sort of hole-in-the-wall Chinese spot in a Monterey Park strip mall specializing mainly in baked goods and dumplings. I wouldn’t say it’s yet in the collective conscience, but is well-known among food bloggers and Yelp.

The interior is spartan, as you can see below. Hey, an A rating!

The menu has a pretty wide array of baked goods, noodles and dumplings. You can also buy many of their dumplings frozen by the bag of 50.

After our order, we were served complimentary peanuts with seaweed. I think this simple dish is actually pretty good, and would make good snacking.

Another complimentary dish that came out was this fried tofu and bamboo shoots. I didn’t really care for this dish.

The first dish of our dishes that came out was this spicy wonton. This is the same wonton that is served in their ge-chai wonton soup, but served with a chili oil instead. I wouldn’t call this spicy, but the chili oil provided some nice flavor.

The next has to be one of their most popular items, the xiao long bao. These juicy pork dumplings are quite delicious, and quite a bargain at 10 for $5.

Another popular dish is their beef noodle soup. It’s a heaping bowl of egg-y noodles in a very rich beefy broth. A generous portion of tender braised beef shank is added atop.

The bowl is filled pretty much to the brim with a lot of noodles. I tend to prefer the noodles a bit more al dente here, but they’re good nonetheless, and held up well even when sitting in the soup for a while. I tend to prefer brisket in my beef noodle soup, as the meat is easier to separate from the tendon (with shank, the tendon is interspersed throughout the meat).

Next was the pancake with beef.

This is a crispy pancake/crepe wrapped around layers of beef and greens. Pretty good.

This was my third trip here, and it was as satisfying as the last couple. There’s some really great food here, comforting to the soul. The owners are very warm and hospitable, and the prices can’t be beat. I’m surprised this restaurant has not really caught on yet, but I figure it’s only a matter of time until this small restaurant has lines out the door.