Good things come in small packages (especially when they’re xiaolongbao)

Washington State is on the American-Canadian border; Vancouver, British Columbia, can be reached in half a day for most residents. My parents used to regularly road trip up to Vancouver and I, not being a fan of road trips, Vancouver (it wasn’t different enough from Seattle), or Chinese food, always complained.

Why is Chinese food mentioned here?

Because my parents would drive hours to another country, eat Chinese food, and drive home. And we’re Chinese.

What this is coming down to is that, for a long time, western Washington didn’t have many standout places where you could get authentic Chinese cuisine (none of that Americanized, sticky-sweet P. F. Chang’s or Panda Express please). Now it does.

The most famous is Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung is an international high end restaurant chain famous for its xiaolongbao, delicate dumplings filled with hot broth and meat. Two Asian locations have received Michelin starsl in 1993, the New York Times named Din Tai Fung as one of the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world, the only Asian restaurant to make the list. The downtown Bellevue and University Village Din Tai Fung locations (a downtown Seattle location is opening up soon at Pacific Place), although not with the world-class reputation of some other locations, are wildly popular and boast lines for hours. I haven’t eaten at either of them.

Part of this is because I don’t care for hype, part of it is I hate lines (I’m hungry and I want food now), and part of it is because I went to a Din Tai Fung in the chain’s native Taiwan and wasn’t impressed by the…cafeteria-style atmosphere. Or how young bamboo shoots were paired with slick, gloopy mayonnaise. I couldn’t remember the soup dumplings at all but did enjoy the potstickers. Unlike normal gyoza or potstickers, which just get pan-fried until brown, these potstickers came with a skirt, achieved by pouring a starch-and-water solution into the pan with the dumplings that turns into a crispy sheet attaching the potstickers to each other by their bottoms. But nothing else made me excited, and this isn’t a review of Din Tai Fung. This is a review of Dough Zone.

Their xiaolongbao are better.

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Much better.

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I have an aversion to authentic Chinese food (for many, many reasons, often related to bad flavor combinations) so I generally go into Chinese restaurants hoping to at least not find the food offensive but Dough Zone’s food is truly delicious – I couldn’t get enough of their shrimp xiaolong bao, among other things.

The soup in the soup dumplings is the best part so orders of xiaolongbao always come with spoons. To eat, put the xiaolongbao into the spoon, take a tiny bite, suck out the broth (any spills contained in the spoon), and chew the rest. Xiaolongbao are traditionally eaten while very hot but this can be bypassed if you just wait for the dumpling to cool off and put the entire tiny parcel into your mouth, but that takes away from some of the experience.

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The way the cooks make xiaolongbao is hugely entertaining to watch. The speed is breathtaking as they deftly shape dough into rounds, add filling, wrap the dough around the filling, pleat the dough…and suddenly there’s a cute bao in front of you.

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Even more than the xiaolongbao, I come for the sweet and sour cucumber. These are delicate Persian cucumbers, not the tougher English cucumbers, sliced thin and topped with a luminous sauce that never becomes uninteresting. On my last visit I was actually slightly disappointed with the cucumbers because they should be sliced twice as thinly! I don’t get excited about vegetables like this often.

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Dough Zone also has really flavorful beef wraps (the pancake is homemade, not from the freezer of an Asian supermarket) and potstickers, which have a great crust but don’t have a skirt as sophisticated as Din Tai Fung’s.

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The menu’s selections are well-portioned for sharing, and with this much variety, even vegetarians will walk away happy.

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For me, there’s no need to go to Vancouver anymore.

 

Dough Zone Dumpling House

15920 NE 8th St #3

Bellevue, WA 98008

 

 

 

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