For my trip to China, I dutifully scoured the Chowhound boards looking for suggestions of places that I might want to try. Our small group of 3 included one Mandarin speaker (although he is limited mainly to 40-year-old academic vocabulary) and that emboldened us to stick mostly to whatever places looked good near where we were at the time and forget about other people's ideas of good places.
But there were a few exceptions. We hit up a well-spoken of jiaozi place east of the Forbidden City and had an absurd meal (way too many dumplings – like maybe 3X the amount needed).
And then there was hotpot. My GF loves hotpot – she grew up eating Mongolian-style hot pot at home and missed it – especially since she went veggie (recently adding fish/seafood back to her diet).
The Chowhound recommendation from Petit Pois for Ding Ding Xiang in Beijing sounded great and so we made our way to right neighborhood via subway and then found the right street by asking and then went store to store until someone finally knew what restaurant we were asking for and pointed us in the right direction. Although the address we had was ‘second floor, 2/F Yuanjia International Apartments, Dongzhimenwai, Dongzhong Jie,’ the restaurant (with a sign that says Hotpot Paradise in English), was on the first floor of a building in sort of an alley off of Dongzhong Jie. The trick appears to be to come out of the Dongzhimen subway stop at the southeast-most exit, walk a block to Dongzhong Jie, make a right and head down about 1⁄2 a block. There will be a wide alley off to the left and that alley is the place. The alley is located across Dongzhong Jie from a store currently called (memorably to me) Whale Baby Clothing and the St. Store Bakery (presumably named after the patron saint of retail!).
Once we found the place, we were led into a pretty elegant space packed with lunchtime diners and seated at a nice big table. We then had to navigate ordering – I find the waiters/waitresses hovering over the person with menu after only 45 seconds of being seated to be disconcerting. This was no different – but the wait staff eventually proved quite helpful. They explained that there was indeed a mushroom-based broth available (several actually) and that all the veggies we wanted were available in a single 45 Yuan basket called Vegetarian’s Joy. We ordered that, some more mushrooms and some fishballs. The waitress was very confused at our lack of meat – and I am sure that our total bill was less than half of what the average table of 3 racks up because the veggies and fishballs are significantly cheaper than the meat offerings. She seemed more concerned that we had forgotten to order it than trying to push our bill up - once we convinced her we really didn't want meat, she seemed OK with it.
We also confused the waitress by wanting to order only one sauce. Our thought was to try it and see whether we wanted to order more or something else. But she insisted that we had to order one sauce per person – so we got the sesame sauce that was recommended in that Chowhound posting and two other sauces, chosen pretty much at random. And then I had to add an order of sesame crusted shao bing because Petit Pois made it sound so good.
The food: spectacular. I know spent a long time setting this up and so a short review of the food might seem stingy – but all I really need to say is spectacular. It was all great. The broth had great flavor, even before we dumped in all the goodies. The fishballs tasted freshly made and were some of the best I’d ever had in any context in any country. And the veggie mix contained more than just veggies: really great selections, including chrysanthemum, potato, three kinds of tofu, bean thread noodles, kelp, etc. And the sesame sauce was fantastic – and we regretted not just getting 3 of those.
Including two beers (Heineken, which they at first insisted they didn't have despite the large ads sitting on the table in the table tent and despite its inclusion in the menu), hot tea and several iced teas (pu-er and chrysanthemum special 'summertime' iced tea), we spent about 180 Yuan. Quite a bargain for a huge feast.
That meal was so fantastic, we made another special trip for a repeat performance. That time, we ordered two kinds of fishballs (both superb) and 3 sesame sauces from the git go.
I picked up a business card and it seems to indicate that there are 3 more locations for Ding Ding Xiang, so if you are in Beijing, ask around. There might be one closer than the Dongzhong Jie location.
Now, if only I knew the name of the killer Sichuan-style hotpot place we went to basically at the corner of Nanxinhua Jie and Zhushiko Xi...