We wanted to venture to the Peninsula today and since we've not actually eaten at a Chinese restaurant in exactly 18 months (last such meal, for CNY was at Da Dong in Beijing!!), we really wanted a taste of our former home, so on a whim, decided to go to the only DTF in Northern CA.
Regulars on the board need no introduction to this chain, but just to state it's a Taiwanese chain specialising in hand-made Xiao-Long Bao (soup dumplings). We would eat regularly at various branches in Beijing: at least 4-5 times a year. There are about 10 branches in the US: which is probably fewer than Beijing alone!
The online reservation system showed no available slots, but they state that they reserve most tables for walk-ups, so we thought, let's go for it. This was our first time to the Westfield Mall (or pretty much anywhere) on the peninsula: it was really rather bizarre, reminding us very much of being back in Beijing (except for the Macy's/Nordstroms) -- nothing really like it on the East Bay or in the City, so it's been a long while since we've been to somewhere like that. Checking in at 13:15, thinking we have missed the lunchtime rush, we were told there was a 2 hour wait (!!!!) for a table. Looking at the other options at the mall, there was a shake shack, but we've had our fill of burgers recently, a western-looking sushi place (Bamboo -- no idea if it's actually any good), and a new fish/seafood place (?kingfish), which also had a two hour wait. I was briefly delighted to see Eataly as an option, until I realised they aren't slated to open until 2022. There was also an advert for a Singapore-style eatery that hadn't opened yet that looked interesting (including kaya toast!): our future slogs to the peninsula may involve making difficult choices! We reckoned: surely, the majority of people on the waitlist are just going to give up, so maybe the 2 hr wait will just be one hour, we can look round the mall for a while...sadly, we were mistaken: we were pinged bang on 2hrs later to check-in, and were shown to our table shortly thereafter. They have opted to physically distance seating: so they are only operating at 50% capacity. Not wishing to over-generalise, but that's probably wise given their clientele and attitudes thereof to Covid-related risks. This was clearly impacting wait times for tables.
Anyway, onto the food. We ordered both pork and the pork/crab XLB. In terms of expertly constructed dumplings, a thin wrapper and taste, they tasted very much our forays back in China, i.e. excellent. The crab was 'crabier' (if that's a thing), perhaps because fresh crab maybe hard to come by, at least in Beijing. However, one thing that was different was the proportion of soup to meat filling: there was noticeably less soup in these dumplings. I don't know whether that's a Cali fat/gelatin avoidance thing or what, but it was noticeable. We also ordered fried string beans: these were crunchy and tasty, taking on the flavouring from the garlic, but not overpowered by it; vegetarian fried rice (the plain egg-fried rice on the China menus not available): this seems an odd thing to order, but the egg-fried rice at DTF is one of my favourite renditions of the dish: it's very light and non-greasy. The julienned wood-ear fungus on top of various vegetables didn't really enhance the dish imo, but it was still tasty. Finally, we also ordered a sesame noodle dish: this came with a semi-spicy sauce, liked a mild version of dan-dan noodles. The flavours stood out and my wife and daughter in particular rather liked it. Sadly, US DTF don't seem to offer my favourite dish (except for the XLB) on their China menus, which is their stir-fried pea-shoots, which is one of my favourite renditions of that dish. I'm really going to miss that.
All in all, the food was, as before, very good: it's not revelatory, but it's tasty, dependable, and reasonable value (total came to $75 before tip). Would I wait for 2 hours again, I don't think so (although it wasn't lining up, which lessened the blow, and since this was our first time to this mall, we had lots to explore, so it was OK, but could quickly become a bore if it's par for the course). A quick look at their website shows the first available lunch slot for four is in a month's time, which for us, who aren't down the street, but not exactly a million miles away, takes away from the spontaneous "let's do DTF" experience.
Would be interested to hear what other CHers think: the wait-times here seem excessive compared with other locations: my cousin in Seattle area and family regularly dine at their DTF and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't put up with 2hr waits each time.
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