San Diego Eats: Din Tai Fung has arrived!
Starting from earlier in 2018, I had noticed that they were building a Din Tai Fung in UTC. Din Tai Fung! The famous Taiwanese xiaolongbao restaurant! In UTC! That once dowdy mall in University City!
So I was super excited to see that they would be open in time for my December trip back to San Diego. And since they were technically in “soft opening” mode, the ONLY accepted reservations via Yelp. Once they open, then it will go to a NO reservations system, where wait times will likely exceed an hour. I personally prefer being able to make a reservation, so that we didn’t have to wait endlessly in line, and I was lucky to nab a table for the evening before my sister’s departure.
Like in Din Tai Fungs around the world, they have large windows opening up to their workspace, where you can see the workers rolling out the dough…
…and wrapping up the xiaolongbao.
The interior is large and modern. But there were some awkward parts. You can see all along the right side of the wall in this picture, that the tables are kind of very long banquets facing the aisle. That is, 3 people are facing directly to the open area where you walk, and then there are 2 people sitting on the short ends of the table. Imagine the Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The two people sitting at the very ends of the table are quite far from one another, and since the space is rather noisy, it’s hard to hear one another above the din.
I remembered from the last time I went to Din Tai Fung, that my favorite dish was actually not the famous xiaolongbao, it was the House Steamed Chicken Soup. And the version at this branch lived up to my expectations. It had a super-clean, strong chicken flavor, with chicken meat that fell off the bone.
The pork xiaolongbao (the classic ones - the crab and truffle ones aren’t worth the extra cost), were good. There was decent broth inside. But these weren’t my favorite part of the meal.
“Seaweed and beancurd strips in a vinegar dressing” was a bit bland, and seemed to be dominated by bean sprouts, rather than either of the two star ingredients.
The cucumber salad was also a bit bland. Though pretty.
The shrimp and kurobuta pork pot stickers were excellent! It comes in a rectangle, with a thin layer of crispy flour uniting the potstickers.
See how thin it is! I would love to learn how to make pot stickers like this.
But besides the cool visual effect, these pot stickers were superb. The shrimp was crunchy and distinguishable in the filling. We loved it so much, we ordered another plate after polishing off the first one.
The sautéed spinach with garlic was good, tender and flavorful.
The vegetable and kurobuta pork wontons in spicy sauce were decent, though not a standout.
We were actually still a bit hungry, so besides the extra order of pot stickers, we also got an order of “sauced noodles with pickled mustard greens and shredded pork.” These were excellent! The noodles had just the right bite, and the combination of sour cabbage with the savory sauce was delightful (though there could have been a bit more pork). Along with the steamed chicken soup and the pot stickers, this last minute addition was a favorite of the evening.
Din Tai Fung at UTC isn’t a cheap place to eat out; I’d think of it more as a special occasion restaurant, rather than a place I’d go to every time I visited. But its addition to UTC really speaks to the transformation that the mall has taken from a rather drab, beige place when I was growing up, to a rather vibrant environment where people actually hang out in the evenings. In fact, after dinner, we went to get boba at the 85°C Bakery Café at the other end of the mall, another Taiwanese import, and another neat addition!