Explore bundles of flavor at Din Tai Fung

Steamed shrimp shao mai. Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Located on the second floor of Lincoln Square right next to the sky bridge, Din Tai Fung my personal favorite restaurant in downtown Bellevue is a ridiculously popular Chinese dim sum restaurant. It was completely abuzz when I visited, just as it is every night. The restaurant does not take reservations so during dinnertime there is always a crowd in the hallway waiting to be seated. Although the wait can be up to an hour, the restaurant has a system of notifying the customer 15 minutes before there is room for them to be seated so anyone is free to roam the area and have time to get back when their table is ready.

The atmosphere in Din Tai Fung is not quiet and relaxed as one would expect from an expensive high-end restaurant. No formal dress is required and there is no pressure to maintain strict manners. Although the casual atmosphere makes the Din Tai Fung a comfortable place to eat, the entire restaurant is incredibly loud. The walls, floor and ceiling are all hard surfaces on which sound reverberates and combined with the many screaming children the noise level impacted the overall experience.

The method of ordering food is different at Din Tai Fung compared to a traditional restaurant. Every table is provided with one menu that showcases the dishes and a small piece of paper listing them all. The guests put a checkmark by every dish they want and hand the list to the waiter to order their food. All the food comes out in small portions over a period of time, so there is always more to eat when the first portions run out – which they quickly will.

Every dish I tried at Din Tai Fung was fantastic. All of their steamed food arrives right in burning hot bamboo steamers which the waiters and waitresses carry around in tall stacks. The service was quick and every waiter and waitress was kind and courteous.

By far the most popular dish and my personal favorite is the xiaolongbao. Xiaolongbao is a type of steamed dumpling that is filled with meat and soup broth. They arrive freshly cooked by the dozen in bamboo steamers and disappear fast – my family went through five servings.

The hardest part about eating the xiaolongbao is being careful not to tear it open to save all the broth inside. They cannot be picked up with a fork or a spoon, so they have to be eaten with chopsticks. Even if someone does not have that skill, it is well worth learning to be able to taste the xialongbao.

The most interesting part of the menu is the desserts. Aside from a couple flavors of ice cream, the dessert options are those that you would not find in a typical restaurant – sweet black sesame filled dumplings, red bean buns and sweet sticky rice were all on the menu. I tried the sesame dumplings, and although the taste was unique the filling had the consistency of coffee grounds. I would recommend sticking to the ice cream.

Overall, dining at Din Tai Fung was an experience I would gladly go through again. Although the long wait might be daunting for first-time visitors, anyone who has eaten there before will know that the food is well worth the wait.
I would recommend Din Tai Fung to anyone who likes to branch out and try unique dishes – as long as they are patient.