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Danwei Canting


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#1 levbarg

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 01:23 PM

If you're looking for a restaurant that is working to erase 150 years of chop suey from Americans' collective consciousness, give Danwei Canting a look.  The guy who started the place is attempting to recreate a few of his favorite foods that he enjoyed in Beijing during the 13 year period that he lived there, and he's largely done that with a healthy dose of respect for the original dishes.  Although there's not a huge amount of innovation from a Chinese perspective, to Portlandlers new to the diversity of real, traditional Chinese cookery, most of it will seem innovative and new.
 
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.
 
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#2 crepeguy

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Posted 12 February 2017 - 02:55 PM

Mr. Taster!!!

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.

#3 vj

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Posted 13 February 2017 - 08:26 PM

Mr Taster - where is DC? Thanks, vj



#4 nate

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Posted 14 February 2017 - 10:49 AM

It's right across Stark from The Slammer.

 

803 SE Stark St
Portland, OR 97214
(503)236-6050
 


#5 Flynn

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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.



#6 austinhaas

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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.



#7 crepeguy

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Posted 19 February 2017 - 04:26 PM

What started as a light lunch at XLB, turned into a full-on feast at Danwei Canting. All I can say is that Mr. Taster has a healthy appetite. At DC we had the lamb burger, Zha Jing Noodles, a lamb skewer, Chongqing Chicken, crispy potatoes, and a pork belly caramelized with 5 spice and sugar. Also, there was a plate of roasted, sliced chashu. A number of these items were complimentar as Mr. Taster seems very popular there. I also promised to season their Crêpe griddle, (but that was after all the free stuff). Everything was delicious.

XLB was good, but could use a little tweaking. I'll leave it at that.

#8 levbarg

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Posted 19 February 2017 - 07:32 PM

Just a quick note that the charsiu was an off menu experimental item so look for it soon. The menu items are in chinese pinyin so if you go, the pork belly Chris refers to is the "Hong shao rou". Lamb burger is lamb rou jia mo. Zha jiang mian ("mian" is noodles in Mandarin) and the 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

#9 truth

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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. 


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#10 levbarg

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 10:19 AM

I have not been to duck house yet, and I have no good reason for that. I'll keep your Chongqing chicken recommendation in my back pocket. It's not something I would have thought to order there. My ordering strategy at restaurants is to keep to the region that the restaurant represents, or at least where the chefs are from. DH is obviously representing themselves as a northern (Beijing restaurant) though I have heard the owners are Taiwanese. That means my natural inclination would be to stick with dishes that are representative of these regions of China. Far too many Chinese restaurant menus are plagued with badly prepared "filler" items that they have just to bulk out their offerings or fulfill non-Chinese expectations, not because the restaurant has knowledge or expertise in successfully cooking those particular dishes. That means a lot of Chinese restaurant menus, even the so-called "authentic" ones like Taste of Sichuan, can be a minefield for the mainstream customer who doesn't go in knowing which dishes the restaurant specializes in. (Yelp is filled with reviews that reflect this.). It's not a Law, just a guideline, but it has served me well for the fifteen years or so that over been leaning about and eating real Chinese food. The last time I violated it was at Pure Spice, a Cantonese restaurant, when I ordered a beef roll which is from Shandong province thousands of miles away. I was served the saddest, most horrible thing. Mr Taster

#11 nate

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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.



#12 crepeguy

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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.  



#13 pwillen1

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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.


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#14 levbarg

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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.

 

Mr Taster



#15 jafar

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Posted 08 May 2017 - 04:06 PM

We're looking forward to trying this, didn't quite make it happen this past weekend. Hopefully it just means they'll be better when we make it.



#16 levbarg

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Posted 02 July 2017 - 06:14 AM

Danwei is ramping up a kind of oll-in-one night market on Saturday nights in an effort to recreate the feeling of a night in Beijing. After 10pm on Saturdays (while the dinner weather lasts) they open on the patio with a jianbing cart, a charcoal brazier for roasting vast quantities of cumin and cayenne dusted lamb kebabs (to be consumed with Yanjing beer). I've also heard they've imported a shengjianbao cart from China.... sjb are essentially a soup "dumpling" that's pan fried. Pan fried xlb? No, sjb! And now for the didactic portion. Xlb technically are not dumplings. They are baozi, or buns. Chinese people define whether something is a dumpling or a bun based not on whether the outer membrane is a noodle or bread, but rather by the shape. So any time you see a round thing with a twist at the top, be it xlb or sjb, it's a bun. : The term."soup dumplings" to describe xlb is therefore most inaccurate. Mr Taster

#17 FoodKid

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Posted 03 July 2017 - 09:23 PM

That night market sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out.



#18 jafar

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 04:48 PM

Danwei is ramping up a kind of oll-in-one night market on Saturday nights in an effort to recreate the feeling of a night in Beijing. After 10pm on Saturdays (while the dinner weather lasts) they open on the patio with a jianbing cart, a charcoal brazier for roasting vast quantities of cumin and cayenne dusted lamb kebabs (to be consumed with Yanjing beer). I've also heard they've imported a shengjianbao cart from China.... sjb are essentially a soup "dumpling" that's pan fried. Pan fried xlb? No, sjb! And now for the didactic portion. Xlb technically are not dumplings. They are baozi, or buns. Chinese people define whether something is a dumpling or a bun based not on whether the outer membrane is a noodle or bread, but rather by the shape. So any time you see a round thing with a twist at the top, be it xlb or sjb, it's a bun. : The term."soup dumplings" to describe xlb is therefore most inaccurate. Mr Taster

 

We finally made it there yesterday.   Enjoyed the lamb skewer, the special crab and pork dumplings and the cauliflower.   The special dumplings were a lot more flavorful than the regular green lamb dumplings.  

 

The cart was sitting out front.