Posted 12 February 2017 - 01:23 PM
Their zha zhang mian is very good, with handmade and chewy "QQ" noodles. Also great is the lamb rou jia mou (aka "lamb burger") which is an upgraded version with better meat and more generous cut than you'd find in traditional Xi'an restaurants in LA, Richmond BC or NY (whereas traditionally the meat is a mince, at Danwei they fill the jia mou with generous chunks of tender lamb). Also very tasty is the hong shao rou (red cooked pork belly) which is traditionally braised in soy sauce and rock sugar giving it a red tint. Traditionally, the cubes of pork belly are specifically cut to showcase several layers of meat, fat and skin. Anticipating Portlanders squeamishness, they did what I feel is a really smart move that enhances the dish-- they cut off the skin and fry it into pork cracklins, adding an extra layer of texture to the dish and averting a non-Chinese patron squeamishness at the same time. They also render the pork a bit more to reduce the fattiness in the cubes. But make no mistake- the intent is always to have a layer of fat, to have a contrast of textures in the mouth, which is a highly praised characteristic of this dish. Please don't send your hong shao rou back because it's too fatty-- it's supposed to be.
The la zi ji (chili oil fried chicken) is also quite tasty, though it could use more spice. Traditionally this dish is served in a comically large pile of chili peppers (which you're not supposed to eat) but they've had to cut back due to complaints from locals about the "wasteful" amount of chili peppers. Again, this is one of those cross-cultural misunderstandings-- wasteful or not, it's supposed to be that way.
If there are any misses on the menu, I'd say its the vegetarian concessions. The tofu rou jia mo ("burger") is quite bland, as is the tofu jiaozi (dumpling). These are not really traditional preparations of these dishes-- I feel that rather than altering these dishes, they should add really good natively vegetarian dishes to the menu.
At one point early on, they had problems with the jiaozi being too small for the thickness of the skins they're rolling (they have a dumpling skin rolling machine imported from China) but I understand they've addressed that issue. I haven't tried them yet.
Anyway, go. Avoid the tofu jiaozi and tofu rou jia mo. Get the zha zhang mian, la zi ji, and lamb rou jia mo. Also get the lamb skewer with cumin, chili and mala-- they're charcoal grilling them on the patio on weekends.
Posted 12 February 2017 - 02:55 PM
Welcome back from a long hiatus.
Thank you for this detailed review. I thought of you last week as we went to EC Kitchen. We also finally tried Duck House for dumplings. I wanted to go to XLB and write a comparative review of the two, but my heart wasn't into it as this board has been dead and the winter's been hard.
Maybe, hopefully, Spring will bring new life around here.
Posted 14 February 2017 - 02:36 PM
I agree that this place is worth a visit. Standouts for me have been the seared cauliflower, lamb burger, cucumbers with black vinegar, and xianbing stuffed pastry.
Not everything I've had is a hit, but I think they'll refine and sort them out as they go. They seemed very interested in feedback, so I gave it.
Posted 16 February 2017 - 08:41 PM
I went tonight. Everyone in my group liked the place a lot. Favorites were the lamb jiaozi, lamb skewer, and xianbing w/ black vinegar.
Posted 19 February 2017 - 04:26 PM
XLB was good, but could use a little tweaking. I'll leave it at that.
Posted 19 February 2017 - 07:32 PM
Posted 19 February 2017 - 10:59 PM
Chongqing chicken is "la zi ji" (literally spicy oil chicken). (Chongqing is a city in Sichuan province where this type of dish is purportedly from...You can get a Cisco version at Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton. Mr Taster
Have you had it at Duck House? I enjoyed it at both of these places. Has become one of my favorite dishes. I love how Sichuan peppercorns change taste perception, especially of boldy flavored beers.
Posted 20 February 2017 - 10:19 AM
Posted 09 March 2017 - 12:11 PM
Was excited to check this place out and finally did the other day (probably about two weeks ago, but just getting around to commenting). I guess I should preface this by saying I have never been to China so this will purely be my opinion on how good I thought the food was and not a commentary on whether it is "authentic" or "traditional."
Overall, my dining companion and I came away pretty unimpressed. We ordered a small assortment of dishes: the lamb jiaozi, pork "burger", hong shao rou, and a couple of the lamb skewers, as well as a pair of "special" cocktails. Dishes came out as they were ready. In order of what we received... The drinks were fine. We didn't know what was in them, but decided to give it a try anyway. They were tasty, balanced, and packed a decent punch. The jiaozi were the first to arrive and they were... fine. The tiny dumplings were nicely formed and I didn't think the skins were too thick, but I tend to like the thicker skins. The real problem was that they dumplings themselves had very little flavor and the dipping sauce had an unpleasant metallic tang. Next up were the lamb skewers which were... also fine. They were much more well done than I tend to like my lamb, to the point they were fairly dry, but not quite objectionably so (but borderline). The seasoning was okay, though I believe it was cumin that was a bit overpowering. By far the best dish we had was the pork "burger". The "bun" was sliced not quite all the way through and stuffed with chunks of juicy pork and some veggie "slaw". The flavors were well balanced we both wished we had gotten a couple more of these (and tried the lamb), especially after...
The last dish to arrive was the hong shao rou. This is a dish I'm at least somewhat familiar with because I've made it a handful of times myself, working from a few different recipes out there on the interwebs. Initially I made it from scraps leftover on the two occasions I made porchetta (porchette?), but had made it a few more times since, just cuz I found it tasty. After the first time making it, I did as DC does and removed the skin. I just thought the skin was unnecessarily tough and make chewing the chunks of meat more work than necessary. The other change I made over time was to cut the chunks slightly smaller. Most recipes I was using called for 1" x 1" x n, where n is the thickness of the pork belly. This was fine on thinner bellies, but the thicker parts were far too big when cut 1"x1". As levbarg notes above, the best thing about this dish is the varying textures and flavors of the different layers when eaten all together. However, when the chunks are too big to comfortably fit in one's mouth, I find myself pulling apart pieces and not getting the same nice synergy. I mention this because some of the pieces we got at DC were huge. One was nearly two inches on a side. Lacking a knife, there was simply no way to eat many of the pieces without pulling apart the layers, which was really sad. The other problem is that somehow (and from my preparations, I honestly can't imagine how this would happen), the chunks of pork belly were incredibly dry and tough. Some took a minute or more of chewing. Every time I've made this dish, the pieces of belly have been moist and succulent, but these were dry as leather on the outside and had somehow been almost completely deprived of moisture inside as well. For all I know, this is a more authentic preparation than mine, but I found it unpleasant.
Anyway, unless I hear a lot more good things, I doubt I'll be going back any time soon, unless I pop in for a "burger" or two. I'd like to try their take on the la zi ji chicken and some of the other menu items, but with both the lamb and the pork belly (?!?!) being almost unpalatably dry, I don't have a lot of confidence in the execution at this point. I'm really bummed because the whole menu looks delicious and I really wanted to like this place.
Posted 11 April 2017 - 04:10 PM
We ate here again for lunch last week.
Tried the pork jiaozi (dumplings). They were small and had a nice consistency, but their flavor was muted. They were served with a ramekin with fresh garlic, but no sauce. We added some soy and chili oil, but I would have preferred just a house made sauce.
We also had the la zi ji chicken (again) and this time found the dish to be way too salty. Loved the toasted, seasoned Sichuan peppercorns on the bottom of this dish and stirred these in with the rice. I also thought the dish was slightly skimpy on the chicken thighs.
Again tried the lamb skewers. I really like the fresh cumin, but again this dish was way too salty. I know using "salty" as an adjective when describing a dish is subjective. Let me just say that I typically Iove salt and tend to go heavy on the salt with my own dishes (both at home and work), but the chicken and lamb skewers were over the top.
Posted 12 April 2017 - 11:34 AM
I hope they iron things out soon. I want them and XLB to be successful but both have had incredibly mixed reviews.
Posted 16 April 2017 - 12:58 PM
According to the owner, oversalting is a known issue with one particular cook. They're still getting their kitchen in order, slowly but surely.
I tried the jiaozi again (lamb and pork) about a week ago and found them to have improved quite a bit. The seasoning was stronger, the lamb was unaplogetically lamby (which I like) and the pork was juicy to the point that it gushed a small geyser when poked with a chopstick. My only criticism is that I'd like the skin to have a bit more of what the Taiwanese call "QQ" (bounciness), and they're still too small for my taste. This problem is a bit harder to fix, as their Chinese-imported dough mixer has a fixed sized die for rolling the skins out). Mind you, the die is cut to the "official" dimensions of Chinese jiaozi as they're served at the Great Hall of the People (China's equivalent of Parliament, on Tiannanmen Square). So if you want to argue they're too small, you'll be butting up against the chef who cooks for Xi Jinping.
Also, the lamb skewers were very well seasoned the last time I visited, but the la zi ji and lamb burger (ro jia mo) were overly salty.
The owner is putting into place some safeguards to try and pinpoint consistency. He's getting there, it just takes a bit of time.