Yesterday five chowhounds hit the Din Tai Fung in the Valley Fair mall for lunch. It was a first visit for each of us to the newest branch of this Taiwanese chain though some of us have been to other DTF locations.
For Chowdown Part 1, we tried:
Truffle pork xiao long bao, $25.00 for five – First bite of the meal, and intended that way by the kitchen since the server advised rinsing out one’s mouth before eating this as well as eating it unadorned without any dipping sauce. While I liked it, the Italian truffle contribution (shavings and oil) was not that noticeable and I’m not sure this was worth the tariff.
Snow crab and pork xiao long bao, $11.00 for six – XLB skins are thinner than any other examples in these parts and strong too, as none of our dumplings sprang any leaks. The skins did seem less tender than in Taiwan. Not so much crab in the filling but it does lend a nice sweetness to the soup. The crab-pork XLB had a crab icon in the steamer to ID them.
Fried pork chop, $6.50 – Beautiful job, so juicy with a thin browned crusting and delicate grill marks.
Chicken soup, $8.50 – One of my favorites of the meal, so clean, simple and pure in flavor. Not quite as intense as my memories of the version at DTF in Taiwan where older stewing hens are used to make the bone broth. From the appearance of the elongated wing bones, nubby texture of the skin and taste, this seemed to be a heritage breed, likely huang mao ji.
Noodle with sesame and peanut sauce, $8.50 – Loved the firm and chewy housemade noodles coated with a thick, toasty nut paste. Denoted with “one chile pepper” on the menu, this dish is barely spicy. Another crave-worthy dish.
Shanghai rice cakes with shrimp, $11.75 – Made in a wet rather than charred and dryer style, the chewy rice cakes were infused with concentrated juices that tasted quite meaty to me. I suspect there’s some pork involved though its not mentioned on the menu. Firm shrimp, spinach, and cross cut stems of napa cabbage were part of the jumble of flavors.
Shredded pork fried rice, $9.25 – The runner messed up and brought us pork chop fried rice instead of what we ordered. But we had loved the initial pork chop appetizer so much, we kept quiet and did not reject the dish. The fried rice base, made with fresh pearly grains rather than day-old long grain rice, seemed underseasoned to some. For me the subtlety of it was a good foil for the saltier dishes on the table. Executed so well with moist and chewy short grain rice, fine mince of scallions and airy wisps of egg omelet, this was not singed with wok flavor nor high temperature but made in a wetter style.
Shrimp and pork wonton with spicy sauce, $10.50 – Another big hit both for the full-flavored dumplings with fluttery, thin wrappers drenched in umami-bomb saucing. Some of us spooned that sauce over the other dishes.
Fish dumplings, $8.75 – Steamed, half-moon shape dumplings with finely creased pleats were filled with bland white fish and a bit of leeks or scallions. The fish was too cottony in texture and did not taste that fresh. I wouldn’t order this again until I hear the filling has been upgraded.
Pork xiao long bao, $8.00 for six – Filling is a bit coarse and could use more fat, yet the seasoning has the subtle tones of the Taiwan original. Not sweetened nor too salty, just a subliminal hint of ginger and sesame oil. Our American pork is not as sweet as Taiwanese black pig, but I made a point to tell the manager that he should be using local Berkshire/kurobuta/black pig pork. Of our four baskets of different XLB, I liked these the best.
Shrimp and pork steamed dumpling, $8.75 – Delicious, so much better than the fish dumpling in the same style.
Sweet taro xiao long bao, $7.00 for six – Loved the mashed taro paste filling, but not as a xiao long bao. The wrapper seemed stiffer and drier than the other examples. I would like to try the taro bread bun.
Eight treasure sticky rice, $6.00 – A lovely version, DTF certainly has a way with sticky rice plumping up each individual grain to a perfect glutinous chew. A heart of red bean paste, the steamed rice pudding had better “treasures’ than most versions available locally. Candied tangerine peel, marron glace’, lychee, and more. This dessert requires some prep time so be sure to order it at the start of your meal and not wait till the end.
With tax and 20% gratuity, the price per person came to $34.
I ask my dining companions to report in with their opinions of our meal.
Din Tai Fung
Westfield Valley Fair
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara, CA
(next to J Crew store)
Earlier discussion of DTF Santa Clara:
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