When news reports first broke about Paradise Dynasty, a new restaurant from Singapore, landing in South Coast Plaza, thoughts of delicious Laksa (Spicy Coconut Noodle Soup), Singaporean Hainan Chicken Rice and other dishes popped up in my mind. So it was a little disappointing and surprising when we arrived and saw their sign and menu: “Paradise Dynasty: Legend of Xiao Long Bao”. And the menu itself looked like Din Tai Fung’s menu (from the typeset and font and layout), but with a lot more menu items in addition to what Din Tai Fung had.
Still, it was a beautiful, clean space, and we were already here so we were curious how this might turn out.
A good quality Jasmine Tea (compared to most SGV restaurants) made for a nice pairing throughout the meal.
Kurobuta Pork Dumpling in Chili Vinaigrette:
First, yes, we were definitely taking a risk: Ordering a Szechuan dish in a Singaporean restaurant that’s mimicking a Taiwanese chain that specializes in making Shanghai XLB “Soup Dumplings” and other dishes. But our server said it was her favorite item on the menu, so we decided to order it.
These were fine. Paradise Dynasty’s version of Spicy Wontons in Chili Oil had soft, pliant Wonton skin wrappers, the use of Kurobuta Pork within is an upgrade over traditional versions, but the overall spiciness lacked the numbing, spicy, savory punch of a great hole-in-the-wall version in the SGV. It had spiciness for sure (look at the pics), but the flavor profile tasted like it was an interpretation of that Szechuan dish rather than an OG version.
Stir Fried Pea Shoots with Minced Garlic:
Tasty. A solid wok-sauteed version of a common Chinese Vegetable dish. Tender Pea Shoots and a nice Garlic backnote.
Fried Rice with Pork Chop:
Besides the menu similarities (layout, pictures, etc.), one look at the plating on this Pork Chop Fried Rice and it is obvious that Paradise Dynasty was straight up copying Din Tai Fung. Thankfully, their Pork Chop Fried Rice turned out better than Din Tai Fung’s version(!). The Pork Chop was moist, tender and zestier than Din Tai Fung’s current version. The Fried Rice was also executed better. (Although note, OG Din Tai Fung in the early years was much better - but a few years ago, perhaps due to a central kitchen or over expansion, Din Tai Fung took a major plunge in quality (perhaps @ipsedixit might have more insight?).)
It’s a solid Pork Chop Fried Rice and something I wouldn’t mind ordering again.
Specialty Dynasty Xiao Long Bao (8 Flavors, Kurobuta Pork):
But it’s their Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Buns, sometimes translated as “Shanghai Soup Dumplings”) that the restaurant advertises as their specialty. Witness the prominent display (above) on how their Xiao Long Bao (XLB) stands out.
Paradise Dynasty features 8(!) different flavors for their Xiao Long Bao Steamed Buns (most places only have the OG variety). They even recommend eating them in a certain order, so we obliged.
Original Xiao Long Bao (with Kurobuta Pork):
The classic, base flavor, taking a bite, Paradise Dynasty’s Xiao Long Bao is indeed a “homage” (or straight up copy) of Din Tai Fung’s now famous thin-skinned Xiao Long Bao. Except Paradise Dynasty’s version is superior: It has a similar thin skin for the outside of the XLB, but Paradise’s version is more pliant and pleasing in mouthfeel. The interior Kurobuta Pork and Soup filling is more flavorful, a richer, deeper, savoriness pervades every bite. It is delicious!
Again, this is in comparison to current day, over-expanded Din Tai Fung branches here in Southern California.
Luffa Gourd Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
Paradise Dynasty says that these are all natural colors imparted by the ingredients. Here the arresting green colored Xiao Long Bao is due to using Luffa Gourd vegetable infused into the Bun skin. And it actually tastes like Luffa Gourd, a vegetable, green note is definitely coming through in each bite, along with the core, tasty Marinated Kurobuta Ground Pork filling.
Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
Besides the fact that Foie Gras is supposedly still banned in California (not sure how they’re legally selling this), the Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork) really has a Foie Gras flavor coming through(!). Rich, fatty, luxurious. It’s not like you’re getting pieces of Foie Gras within (that might be amazing), but the flavor is there in the XLB skin.
Black Truffle Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
The positive: Their Black Truffle Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork) actually had more of a real Italian Black Truffle flavor in every bite compared to the fake Chinese Truffles that Din Tai Fung and other local Chinese restaurants are using as “Truffle” dishes. The negative? It’s still not as impressive as having actual European Black Truffles infused in the Steamed Buns, but the cost might be prohibitive at that point.
Cheese Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
I can only say, as @ipsedixit has stated many times with other Chinese dishes, Cheese has no business in a Xiao Long Bao. Ever. It just tastes wrong on so many levels. There’s a cheap American or Cheddar Cheese greasiness mixed in with their base Xiao Long Bao and it’s disturbing. Not good.
This was the only miss in their 8 Flavors XLB dish.
Crab Roe Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
This was pretty tasty: Actual Crab Roe flavor infusion in the Xiao Long Bao dough itself, and it paired nicely with the savory Kurobuta Pork and Soup filling within.
Garlic Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
The Garlic Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork) tasted of a deep, pungent Garlic flavor, which pairs nicely with Ground Pork and Soup. Delicious.
Szechuan Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork):
Lastly, the 8th flavor in the dish was their Szechuan Xiao Long Bao (w/ Kurobuta Pork), which basically was a Chili Pepper infused version. It was mildly spicy, lightly numbing (barely), and was really more for the stark red color appearance than actual flavor. Still, it was fine.
Overall the 8 Flavors Xiao Long Bao presented here at Paradise Dynasty were successful and interesting, offering subtle flavor differences, major visual color differences, and it was more than just a marketing gimmick (although it’s easy to see it that way). The only other place we’ve had multiple flavors was at Dragon Beaux in San Francisco, and as much as we enjoyed that restaurant, their Multi-Flavored Xiao Long Bao didn’t have the flavor infusion that Paradise Dynasty had. (@ipsedixit @paranoidgarliclover @A5KOBE and all.)
Note: You can also just order a full tray of one flavor only (OG, or any of the new ones if you prefer).
Pan-Fried Shanghai Kurobuta Pork Bun (Sheng Jian Bao):
Unfortunately, compared to their Shanghai Xiao Long Bao, Paradise Dynasty’s version of Sheng Jian Bao (Pan-Fried Shanghai Kurobuta Pork Buns) was average at best. There was some sear on the bottom, but no Sesame Seeds (like some versions of Sheng Jian Bao locally), and the overall Bao thickness was too doughy and thick, resulting in a stodgy bite.
La Mian with Minced Pork and Mushroom Sauce (Zha Jiang Mian):
This was probably the most clear example of how the “multi-lens” approach of a Singaporean restaurant group copying Taiwanese Din Tai Fung restaurant group, which makes their version of various regional Chinese dishes ends up with a bizarre interpretation like this:
Paradise Dynasty’s Zha Jiang Mian (usually translated as “Soybean Sauce Noodles”, listed here as “La Mian with Minced Pork and Mushroom Sauce”) tastes like a Sweet & Sour Pork Noodle dish(!). It’s cloyingly sweet, a little sour, and tastes nothing like any version of Zha Jiang Mian that we’ve ever tried (and we’ve tried quite a few thanks to @ipsedixit from Beijing style versions to Taiwanese and ones inbetween). Avoid.
Black Sesame Mochi with Grated Peanuts:
But then we finish up the meal with their Black Sesame Mochi with Grated Peanuts, and it was fantastic! Nicely soft and with delicate chew, their Mochi (made with Pounded Rice) had a fantastic Black Sesame filling, bursting with nutty aromas and a deep rich Black Sesame! The Ground Peanuts on the exterior just reinforced the nuttiness. So good! (@paranoidgarliclover)
As before, Paradise Dynasty does not take reservations. Instead, you have to show up and put your name on a waitlist (powered by Yelp, but they don’t allow anyone to add their name except in person). Thankfully it was only about a 15 minute wait on this 2nd visit.
La Mian with “Dan Dan” Sauce (Spicy Sesame and Peanut):
It’s interesting that Paradise Dynasty calls their Noodles “La Mian” (Pulled Noodles), but they leave out the “Hand” part of the name, so it’s not “Hand Pulled Noodles” which usually have more texture and chew in every bite, but these Noodles have more bite than Din Tai Fung’s version.
Their Dan Dan Noodles are a more soupy version compared to some Dan Dan Noodles around town, but it has a good Chili, Sesame Paste and Peanut balance of flavors coming through, very nutty and fragrant with a decent Chili kick.
Definitely visually arresting, their Radish Pastries are very light and crispy and flaky, but despite the thin and light appearance, each of those tiny folds captures too much oil, so it comes off as greasy with a sweetish Radish taste in every bite.
Signature Original Xiao Long Bao (with Kurobuta Pork):
On this 2nd visit, a tray of their Signature Original Xiao Long Bao is as consistent as our 1st visit: Super thin, pliable Steamed Bun skin, more refined and with better texture than Din Tai Fung, gives way to a deep, rich, lightly porcine Kurobuta Pork and Soup filling. The Pork is soft and flavorful, the Broth within is also richer and more balanced than Din Tai Fung’s version. Excellent!
Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Minced Garlic:
Still as good as the 1st visit. Nicely sauteed vegetables.
Double-Boiled Chicken Soup (Steamed):
Paradise Dynasty’s Double-Boiled Chicken Soup (another copied menu item from Din Tai Fung) is darker and more herbal than Din Tai Fung’s version. It’s certainly light, and when in the mood for a solid Chicken Broth, Paradise’s version is fine. But in this case, Din Tai Fung’s Chicken Soup is better.
La Mian with Vegetable Chicken Wontons in Signature Pork Bone Soup:
This is quite an interesting dish: A strange amalgam of Chicken & Vegetable Wontons, Chinese La Mian (Pulled Noodles), but in an almost Hakata-style Japanese Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen Soup Base(!). And, it works.
The Chicken & Vegetable Wontons are rich and flavorful, the Pulled Noodles are similar to previous Noodle dishes we ordered, thin, straight, machine-pulled Noodles but having some bite to them, and the Pork Bone Broth is rich, without being too heavy (nowhere near as heavy as a hardcore Tonkotsu), but having that same cloudy, Pork Bone infusion in every sip.
If the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” holds true, then Paradise Dynasty is heaping mountains of praise upon Din Tai Fung. From the menu and layout, one glance and it’s obvious that Paradise Dynasty took Din Tai Fung’s menu as its base and then added more dishes to it. Thankfully, it didn’t just end there (as a straight copy), but instead Paradise Dynasty added far more dishes (it’s probably 200% the number of dishes that Din Tai Fung has), and has actually surpassed Din Tai Fung in most areas.
There are definitely some misses on Paradise’s menu, such as the off-putting “Sweet & Sour” Zha Jiang Mian (La Mian with Minced Pork and Mushroom Sauce), mediocre Pan-Fried Shanghai Pork Buns (Sheng Jian Bao), and greasy, slightly sweet Radish Pastries.
But there are also many solid menu items. Start with a solid Pork Chop Fried Rice, which Paradise Dynasty has executed better than Din Tai Fung in its current state. Their Sauteed Pea Shoots & Garlic are a great veggie side. Their La Mian (Pulled Noodles) Vegetable & Chicken Wontons in Pork Bone Soup is a surprisingly tasty fusion of Chinese & Japanese cultures where the Chicken Wontons shine the most.
And definitely don’t miss out on their Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Soup Buns / “Shanghai Soup Dumplings”). Their 8 Flavored “Specialty Dynasty Xiao Long Bao” are generally very good to outstanding with their unique flavors (more than a marketing gimmick), with the only miss being the Cheese XLB, or you can stick with their Original Xiao Long Bao (with Kurobuta Pork filling), which has a beautiful rich, savory depth of porcine goodness and enticing broth that is the best thin-skinned version of Xiao Long Bao in the Southland.
(inside South Coast Plaza, near Bloomingdale’s 1st Floor)
3333 Bristol Street, Suite A
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tel: (714) 617-4630