Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung, the famed Taiwanese dumpling house, recently opened in the University Village shopping mall. This restaurant is notorious for the irrational exuberance it inspires in people, a frantic obsession akin to the panty-moistening power of one million Bubles. Seriously, with the wait for a party of four on Friday night measured in geological time frames, Din Tai Fung is clearly the most popular restaurant in the known universe, and people will do anything to get inside. Here is a list of atrocities I have personally seen committed by frenzied diners attempting to jump ahead of Din Tai Fung’s ponderous dinner rush:

• A man threw a bunch of black widow spiders onto a child.

• Somebody wedgied a pregnant woman.

• A kid sprayed the crowd with a Super Soaker filled with hydrofluoric acid.

• Richard Sherman yelled a lot.

But is Din Tai Fung actually delicious enough to elicit such a cultlike response? Short answer: no. Long answer: no, but… Longest answer: read the rest of this review.

We started with the sweet and sour spare ribs. $7.50 got us a bowl of these meaty nuggets, glazed in a high-gloss sauce. While the pork was very tender and fell off the bone, the ribs had been clumsily hacked apart, like plastic surgery on a reality-tv starlet, so that there were little chips of bone which bedeviled my maw as though I were a Rancor. Plus, the sauce tasted suspiciously like Aunt Jemima syrup, so not only was the glaze cloying, it was also latently racist.

Sauteed spinach with garlic ($9) was pedestrian but tasty enough, with tender leaves of baby spinach sautéed in a sauce which, while certainly garlicky, was not pungent enough to destroy a makeout session. This dish benefitted enormously from the therapeutic splash of soy sauce I self-administered, since it was a bit bland without it.

Shanghai rice cake with chicken ($8.25) was interesting, to say the least: chicken, spinach, and cabbage were stir fried with the eponymous rice cakes, which are NOT the puffy foam coasters white people think of when they read the word “rice cake.” Rather, these were glutinous discs of steamed rice dough, pleasantly sticky, almost like savory Jujyfruits, though far less aggravating.

Sauced noodle with pickled mustard green and shredded pork ($8) was pretty interesting actually: gossamer strands of pasta were tossed with finely julienned greens and a few thin shreds of delicately cooked pork in a light sauce. The noodles were perfectly cooked, with the same quirky permanent wave sported by Top Ramen noodles, albeit much tastier. There wasn’t a lot of pork, but that was okay: the most intriguing flavor was bitter tang of the greens, which lingered sullenly on the tail of each bite, like skulking teenagers downing half-empty glasses of Franzia at a wedding.

Finally, xiao long bao, AKA juicy pork dumplings, the crown jewel in Din Tai Fung’s noodly crown. These fucking things, while definitely clever, are overrated to the MAXX. When you get an order of these $9.50 for ten of them, your server will warn you to tear each one open a bit to release the steam inside, then dunk each dumpling into a mixture, prepared tableside, of soy sauce and rice vinegar, with a thatch of shredded ginger thrown in. Each dumping sags noticeably under its own weight when hoisted with a chopstick, pregnant with filling. With its paper-thin wrapper and liquid filling and its pork testicle, the xiao long bao resemble nothing so much as a dumpling scrotum.

When you bite in, the aforementioned juicy juice floods your tongue, followed by, of course, the pork filling, swept into your mouth by the savory tsunami released by your bite. These are generally tasty, but are they THAT tasty? Are they good enough to inspire the erotic sonnets which populate Din Tai Fung’s bazillion Yelp reviews? After all, people go fucking apeshit for these things: if you snatched one away from someone about to take a bite of a juicy pork dumpling, your unwitting victim would continue to futilely chomp the air in frustration. Have you ever seen two dogs fucking, then the female somehow escapes, leaving the male dog to continue to instinctively hump the air? That’s what would happen to someone about to eat a juicy pork dumpling, only with their mouth instead of hips, if you were thus inclined to culinarily cock-block them. Seriously, the victim of your prank would resemble Pac-Man, chowing down uselessly through empty glowing hallways, avoiding ghosts, occasionally encountering a bouncing cherry or, if your luck holds, a pretzel.

As far as dumplings go, the juicy pork dumplings aren’t bad. But the recommended dose of vinegar and soy and ginger is actually mandatory, since without the sturm und drang of these toppings, the unctuous filling of the xiao long bao fatigues the tongue like a motherfucker. Especially if, like me, you eat 20 of them.

Din Tai Fung sells dessert but come the fuck on: everyone knows asian desserts suck. They’re either overly sweet or not sweet enough, or else they are completely inappropriate, like the shave ice with assorted toppings. In the name of journalistic integrity I’m telling you that I did NOT actually order the shave ice with assorted toppings, but I don’t need to. I ate something like this in Hawaii once. THEY PUT BEANS IN THE SHAVE ICE. No kid wants that. What the fucking fuck. You can’t do that, putting some savory dinner item into dessert threatens the order of nature. If you’re going to put beans onto a snow cone, where do we draw the line? Why not sprinkle an ice cream sundae with corn? Won’t someone think of the children?

Rating: 5 disappointed children out of 10

Din Tai Fung is located at 163 University Village

No reservations. For inquiries or pickup orders call 206-525-0958

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 on Urbanspoon