Confession: almost as soon as we booked our Seattle vacation, we started a list of places we wanted to dine at and Din Tai Fung was at the top. This Taiwan based chain is known for their 小笼包 xiaolongbao (steamed soup filled dumplings). I should mention that xiaolongbao did not originate from Taiwan but from Shanghai, China. That's neither here nor there for the purposes of this review. Just putting it out there as a statement of fact.
There are currently two, soon to be three locations of Din Tai Fung in Seattle. We visited the one in University Village which is an upscale open air shopping center located near the University of Washington campus. We heard about the crowds and the place was already buzzing with people when we arrived at 11:15. This was on a weekday just 15 minutes after they had opened. The restaurant is situated on the 2nd floor in a building just inside the entrance. It is an airy space with a sit down bar area in the front and a window through which you can watch the dumplings deftly being made right by the entrance. The decor is simple and casual with wooden tables and chairs. Bamboo steamer baskets adorn the walls. You're given a sheet to tick off the items you want. Along with dumplings, the menu has a selection of noodles, rice, soups, vegetables, Chinese style desserts and teas.
We opted for the classic juicy pork soup dumplings. At this location, they're also available in pork and crab and truffle and pork varieties. They must have these ready to go because the soup dumplings arrived at our table within minutes of our order being taken. Judging by appearance, they looked beautifully crafted with delicate pleats. We both noted that they weren't steaming hot and cooled down really quickly. After all the hype, the taste was a bit of a letdown. The skin was thick and chewy and though tasty, there was a distinct lack of soup in the dumplings. We've eaten many soup dumplings and it's a unique experience. The basic criteria is a skin that is delicate and thin as possible without breaking, filled with a savory soup that explodes in your mouth when you bite into it and a filling which carries the flavor of the dumpling that is well seasoned, juicy and toothsome. At $10 for 10, these soup dumplings should've wowed and they just didn't do that for us.
I gotta say, I don't get the hype on Din Tai Fung, especially considering the prices they charge are pretty high relative to the amount of food they give you. Our meal ended up being around $70 after tax and tip which is expensive by Chinese food standards and this was lunch. I'm not someone who needs huge portions and I probably wouldn't have minded this or the prices as much if the food was better. We ended up going to Joe's Shanghai after we got back to NYC to get our xiaolongbao fix. I'd be curious to try one of the branches in Asia to see how it compares. One location in Hong Kong garnered a Michelin star but I don't see that happening here.
Din Tai Fung is an international brand with branches in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, the United States, Thailand and Dubai.
Have you ever had xiaolongbao? How did you like them?
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)
2621 NE 46th Street
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