Din Tai Fung is an international Chinese restaurant chain headquartered in Taiwan. Up until now, Arcadia has been home to the only two Southern California outposts. Monday they opened up a large, elegant restaurant in the Americana at Brand in Glendale. By lunchtime Tuesday, there was already a half-hour wait for a table. The hosts kindly text you when your table is ready, so you can shop at the nearby Nordstroms or Sur la Table while you wait. Or you can bide your time at the small bar, which serves mixed drinks as well as beer and wine.
Din Tai Fung is famous for their xiaolongbao, soup dumplings, so called because they are cooked with a consomme that melts as the dumpling steams. As you bite into the small dumplings, the broth bursts forth, flowing into your mouth. It is almost like inside-out dumpling soup. You can order them with a variety of fillings, such as pork and crab, or green melon and shrimp. The wrappers on these dumplings are almost impossibly light and ethereal, even a little transparent.
The kitchen also produces shiu mai, potstickers and other steamed dumplings behind a large glass viewing window. The much-heralded truffle dumplings, special to this location for the moment, come at a steep $22.50 for five, and are not really that much more amazing than any of the others. Most dumplings are priced between eight and eleven dollars for ten, and all are served with fresh ginger that can be mixed with soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil for dipping. You will have to wait for the weekend to try tiny little dumplings with soup.
A light start to your meal would be the cucumbers seasoned with soybean, sesame and chili oils. The cold pressed fungus also looks intriguing. Hot and sour soup is multilayered and definitely spicy, with silky thin strands of tofu. Round out the dumpling extravaganza with sauteed longbeans with garlic or baby bok choy. I would also recommend finishing with a red bean or sweet taro bun.
The unsung heroes of Din Tai Fung however, are their noodles, which I crave with an even greater intensity than the dumplings. Sauced noodles are whisper-thin and delicate. The fried noodles are thicker and more toothsome, flavorful without a hint of grease. A novel spin on the noodle is the rice cake, also sauteed with vegetables and your choice of protein.
Service is attentive and speedy. The servers move fast, but they are willing to take their time and advise you on ordering a well-balanced meal. My drink was never empty and I never had to try to attract anyone’s attention. In spite of the bustle, the noise level is low, perhaps due to the high ceilings in the ballroom-sized space.
You may miss out on the feeling that you have discovered some exotic neighborhood treasure, but the convenience of the location more than makes up for it. I’m sorry, foodies, but the secret is out.