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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.
 
Mr Taster

#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