The Little Dumpling That Could

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris January 06, 2020 06:22 in Dining Diary

As I have said before, we have our favorites in Los Angeles. We don’t go to Bottega Louie much, because it is in downtown LA or DTLA, as it is called, which is, frankly, disgusting. We have another favorite that is in a mall, an original United States location in a tiny strip mall, and a brand new location in the mall of malls (to me, anyway) the newly refurbished Century City Mall.

Din Tai Fung is a Michelin-starred Taiwanese/Chinese dumpling house with a consistent wait of at least an hour. Its authenticness is proven by the sheer number of Chinese people in there, But they are hardly the only ones. Din Tai Fung is not at all authentic in that Mom-and-Pop way. though that is certainly how it began. Now it is glamorous, enormous, and authentic.

We had a few things to do in the mall, so the first stop was getting our name on the list at Din Tai Fung. They had been open mere minutes and the line to get on the list was out the door. That accomplished, we moved on to Eataly, which was having a “spaghetti weekend”, with “discounts” on everything. Eataly “discounts” are amusing but in an infuriating way. Mountains of Pannetone will have to be discounted too heavily for Eataly. People will be confused by the savings. These Italian fruitcakes are about as good as the American versions.

We were in Eataly about an hour when we got a text to get to the Din Tai Fung hostess stand. Another long line awaited us there. You have 15 minutes from text to check-in, or your name is dumped. Once in, you have to wait again for your name to be called. 

Why go through all this? Because it is Din Tai Fung, home of the noodle room, where a crowd of Chinese dumpling makers meticulously craft thousands of dumplings wearing what amounts to labcoat gear and masks. Also. at Din Tau Fung they do something to green beans that makes them one of the best things you have ever eaten. 

Dim Sum is ordered by the piece, with a little form. Waiters bring it to the kitchen where it is filled. Almost like a delicious factory. Because we had the kids with us, we had the order for dumplings written before we sat down. A hot and sour soup was ordered, along with wonton soup, potstickers, Jidori chicken dumplings (pictured), Kurobuta shrimp and Pork Shao Mai dumplings, and Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumplings. Shrimp fried rice, and the aforementioned green beans as well as equally good broccoli. Maybe I'm alone in this, but soup dumplings do not thrill me. The potstickers here are unusual, coming out as mountains from a base of cooked batter. The fried rice is better at Trey Yuen, and everything else is good. 

The place is so polished it is hard to imagine its humble beginnings  Founder Bing-Yi Yang was born in the Shanxi province of China but moved to Taiwan at an early age and opened a cooking oil shop. He and his wife took half the space and started selling Xiao Long Bao which means "little dumpling in a basket," and they come from the Jiangnan region of China. Soon the dumplings were so popular they closed the oil shop and sold just dumplings. Now it is worldwide, but only on the west coast in the US. The experience here is worth it all by itself. Part of that experience is the way food is ordered and served. It is not coursed out but comes to the table when ready. It disappears quickly and so do you, making way for the hordes behind you.