It is with great joy I introduce you to a new writing series I will be doing for my blog. Today is the day, and with this appropriate post, I kick off “The White Guy’s Guide to Ethnic Food.”
I can’t think of a more appropriate restaurant to focus on for my inaugural write-up on Seattle’s Eastside then the internationally acclaimed and famous, Din Tai Fung, the Chinese (Taiwanese to be precise) juggernaut that has taken King County by storm. Why did they pick Bellevue for their first location in the Pacific Northwest when the ID, or SLU, or even a slick downtown proper location would be just as relevant to our community if not more so? I don’t know and we probably may never know, but like any good eats joint, if the food is good, and believe me this place is EXCELLENT, the peeps will come, they will find it, they will wait in line, and they will devour the food being placed in front of them. Din Tai Fung is certainly no exception. I went on a Monday night and walked by the dead Z Tejas, dead Pagliacci’s, and even deader Munch Bar, to find a line wrapped around the wall waiting for a table to this brilliant SE Asian restaurant down the hall from the Lucky Strike on the second floor of Bellevue’s Lincoln Center.
When you walk up to this little enclave, you are greeted with a tassel of (presumable) Taiwanese workers behind glass carefully, meticulously crafting hundreds of their specialty dumplings. You see, white people are impressed that some people know that pot-stickers, dumplings, and gyoza are sometimes sort of the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Just like spring and egg rolls, however, they just AREN’T the same. It depends on what part of SE Asia you really are eating in. These perfectly wrapped, feathery dough “clouds” (hand folded with am told 20 folds each!), can be stuffed with virtually anything, but most folks come here for the Juicy Pork dumplings. And let me tell you, I have had some dumplings, and certainly my share of gyoza/pot sticker/etc. from all sorts of “asian” outposts (including Costco or course), and these light pillows of goodness literally explode in your mouth, both with flavor and with the steaming hot filling powering through the first tear of the dough. In fact, my white waiter (from Australia…which he said counts as SE Asia…uh…I don’t know) told me to “poke” the dumpling with my chop stick and either let the steam leave first, or suck out that delicious porky juice before I eat the whole thing or I could scald my mouth. Let me tell you this, if I happened to need to head to the ER for 3rd degree burns on my tongue or on the roof of my mouth, it would be worth it, take me in and I won’t even mind waiting in the waiting room…they were simply THAT GOOD.
My white waiter also suggested the 2nd most popular item on the menu (to be fair, the Asian manager told me this first while I was waiting) was the pan-fried wonton sitting in spicy oil. You could pick between veg stuffed or pork and shrimp, which of course, I chose. These actually kind of looked like the won tons you would see sitting in your won ton soup at a Chinese-American restaurant, except that they were sitting in this gorgeous, brilliant red oil that was a perfect blend of spice, citrus, onion, and Asia. Scoop a little of this oil over the top, and I had a moment of pure culinary bliss. I don’t want to use up all of my good adjectives, nor do I want to sound like all I do is watch the travel/food shows and strive to make my writing voice sound like theirs, I simply want to CLEARLY communicate that these two, very simple, artistically crafted, and hand-made dishes were simply some of the very best Taiwanese, if not Asian, food I have had…certainly in a long time.
Most white people are happy to know that there is family owned Chinese restaurant in their neighborhood complete with Buddha to rub at the cash register and after dinner peppermints, maybe even a complimentary fish tank. Heck, many of my lovely family members LOVE (yes LOVE) Panda Express! I am here to tell you, o you of fairer complexion that Din Tai Fung, shall NOT intimidate you from experiencing ethnic Taiwanese food on Seattle’s east side. Catching a movie at the fancy Lincoln Square Cinema? Then make sure you come an hour or two early and get your dinner at this fantastic restaurant. sure, it may be a little overwhelming seeing what appears to be same sized, same dressed Asian young people (can’t really tell honestly) in the front, behind glass mind you, preparing your dinner. Oh, and in addition to my attempts at encouraging you white folk to head on over there, purely because of my salesmanship, it is always a good sign that it is legit Asian food, when you see a lot of Asians, of all sorts (again, I am guessing), lining up alongside the white patrons, to get some dinner there too. In other words…its THAT GOOD.