I have to admit, I was kinda hoping someone would slip me a soup dumpling when I visited the construction site/training facility of Din Tai Fung yesterday. No such luck. In fact, there was no cooking happening at all.
When I arrived at dumpling class—held in a suite down the hall from where the second-floor Lincoln Square restaurant is being built—about 25 members of the 80-person staff were hovered diligently over butcher-block tables, rolling dough into identical disks. They were learning not only how to roll the dumplings, but how to roll them fast—when the restaurant opens this fall, they will be feeding 300-plus tables of hungry locals. Speed, says franchisee David Wasielewski, is essential.
Din Tai Fung originated in
Taipai Taipei, Taiwan. It now has branches in six countries (its Hong Kong restaurant recently received a Michelin star) and is known especially for xiao long bao—soup dumplings—though it serves rice and noodle dishes and other sorts of dumplings too. I asked Wasielewski why he picked Bellevue. He said that Eastside execs—from Microsoft, Expedia, etc—are already familiar with Din Tai Fung from their corporate travels in Asia, as are a lot of the frequent fliers holed up in nearby Westin and Hyatt hotels.
At the same time, Wasielewski thinks he can appeal to weekenders who come to Lincoln Square for a movie or to bowl at Lucky Strike Lanes. Everything on Din Tai Fung’s menu is $10 and under, and it will be open for lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks. “We’re not in the bar business,” says Wasielewski, who is careful to point out he’s not trying to compete with Joey’s and the like for cocktail dollars. Still, the 7,000 square-foot restaurant (the kitchen takes up almost half of the total space) will have bar and lounge area, and there are plans to incorporate a happy hour drink menu.
Translucent when cooked, the skins of soup dumplings are rolled just thick enough so that the dumpling stays together. In addition to a meat or vegetable stuffing, a solid meat gelatin is wrapped inside the dumpling. When it steams, the gelatin turns to a juicy broth. The onus is on the restaurant, said Waielewski, to teach diners how to eat them without searing their tongues on the boiling-hot broth inside. (Before eating, you poke a hole in the dumpling and let the juice spill out onto your spoon.)
Din Tai Fung is set to open in late October or early November. To whet your dumpling appetite, here is a delicious segment from No Reservations, taped at a famous Shanghai restaurant.