Monday, August 18, 2014

Juicy Pork Dumplings at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza

By Dru Chai

Let the juicy pork dumpling madness begin. Today marks the official public grand opening of Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza. Din Tai Fung is a high-end Chinese restaurant that has earned countless accolades for their food. South Coast Plaza is the largest upscale shopping mall on the West coast with sales of over $1.5 billion (yes, billion with a "B") every year.

South Coast Plaza location: Replaced the old McDonald's spot by Sears 

You're probably saying, what? Isn't this a BBQ blog? Yes, you're right. But it's also about the ingredients and the meat. I'm all about the MEAT, especially when pork is involved.

Din Tai Fung is a restaurant that specializes in steamed dumplings. But they're not just your average, standard ho-hum dumpling. What makes these dumplings special is that they are filled with seasoned pork meat AND hot pork broth inside these porkalicious dumplings. Yes, I wrote porkalicious.

10 juicy pork dumplings, coming right up
Scalding hot and juicy pork broth inside

Now there are many different restaurants that serve these hot juicy pork dumplings (In Chinese, it's called xiao long bao). But what makes Din Tai Fung's version stand out from the rest is the attention to detail. They have an army of workers simply dedicated to making these dumplings by hand, from scratch. They go through countless hours of training just to be able to meet Din Tai Fung's high standards.

I wonder if they're allowed to make funny faces at customers walking by?

I can easily put down 30 of these hot-pork-broth filled dumplings. They're that good. Sure, I may burn every square inch inside of my mouth in the process, but that's how good they are. I love the intense pork flavor that's packed into each one of these dumplings, and the juicy hot broth is the best part.

While there are hundreds of locations throughout Asia, there are only a handful in the U.S. -- all of them on the West coast. If you find yourself with the opportunity to try these porkalicious dumplings, then jump on it. You can find more pictures on my Facebook page:

Din Tai Fung
3333 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eating Out: Wood Ranch BBQ Burnt Ends

By Dru Chai

I'm not kidding when I say that I dream about burnt ends. Seriously. I was at a tropical island and I was being fed burnt ends by some beautiful bikini-clad women. Anyway, never-mind that part. What we're talking about are the perfect burnt ends -- the outside with just the right amount of smokiness and bark, the inside juicy and tender meat with the fat rendered down.

So it's no coincidence that when I smoke a packer brisket, I most look forward to making burnt ends. Proper burnt ends are made from the "point" of the brisket -- cut up into cubes, seasoned again, then thrown back into the smoker for another couple of hours. I like to take an extra step and caramelize the burnt ends on a grill plan for extra AWESOME-NESS.

Back when I first started this blog, I mentioned that I didn't hear of any restaurant in the Southern California area offering burnt ends on the menu. Nowadays, it's a different story -- there are more restaurants marketing and selling burnt ends. Famous Dave's recently introduced burnt ends, and now there's a new competitor to enter the ring -- Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill.

For Southern California residents, finding good BBQ can be a challenge -- especially in Orange County. For someone like me, and for many other backyard grillers and smokers, there's really no need to spend money going out to eat at BBQ restaurants. Unless, of course, the food is close (if not better) to your own BBQ.

Recently I had a chance to sample a few burnt ends dishes from Wood Ranch. They are from the "WR Test Kitchen"and served every Wednesday from 4pm until they sell out (from what I've heard, they usually sell out around 8pm). Wood Ranch uses a Southern Pride commercial smoker with oak wood. Based on what I tasted at the Irvine Spectrum location, I think Wood Ranch should make burnt ends a permanent item on their menu.

As far as the texture and tenderness, the burnt ends were fairly similar to the ones I smoke at home. The beef had a nice smoky flavor, but not overpowering. The burnt ends were not dry -- a common occurrence for many attempting to make proper burnt ends (some think that they should be burnt, literally). The fat was rendered down, so I didn't have mouthfuls of white fat jiggling around in my mouth.

In regards to the overall taste of these burnt ends, they are on the spicy side. For someone like myself who loves spicy foods, it was fine -- there was a good amount of kick. But for a customer who can't eat spicy foods at all, I doubt they can finish eating one or two burnt ends before waving the white flag. Wood Ranch mentioned that the spice was part of their dry rub recipe. I would recommend either a note on the menu or a mention by the server.

Traditionally, Kansas City burnt ends aren't really on the spicy side -- if you want additional flavor, the BBQ sauce should be on the side. It's good to pick either a sweet or spicy flavored BBQ sauce to accompany the burnt ends. For me, a perfectly made and seasoned burnt end should taste great without any sauce whatsoever. But hey, I'm more a BBQ traditionalist.

Whenever I judge BBQ at a KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition, I tend to give higher scores to brisket entries that include excellent burnt ends in addition to brisket slices from the "flat." Whether you call them brisket bacon, or brisket bon bons, burnt ends should be offered at any serious BBQ restaurant. You can bet that a majority Southern Californians have never even heard of burnt ends. Glad to see Wood Ranch make a respectable version.

Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
57 Fortune Dr, #230
Irvine, CA 92618