This time last fall I got into the spirit of the season with heaping bowls of pho. While noodles and warm broth is still my ideal cold-weather meal, the truth is any dish that one considers comfort food is perfect at this time of year. Warm, carb-fueled dishes are my favorite, and I’ve decided the more variety the better.
A friend and I recently headed over to Dan Modern Chinese in Pasadena. Dan is situated in The Commons on South Lake Avenue, adjacent to Philz Coffee. The Commons houses plenty of restaurants and trendy places, like SoulCycle for a good workout, and Olive and June for a day of pampering at the nail salon — not to mention William Sonoma for a bit of shopping, and DryBar for a good blowout. It’s the quaintest, most picturesque shopping area in Pasadena, and one of my favorite places to visit, if you couldn’t already tell.
Upon entering, I met my friend in in the restaurant’s tiny waiting area. There didn’t seem to be anyone actively monitoring the order of arrivals and determining who would be next to be seated, so we let the hostess know we were there. She immediately seated us at an open table nearby. The rest of the restaurant was pretty full for 8 p.m. on a Sunday. Still, it felt open and airy. The tables are a light-colored wood, the fixtures all neutral tones in white and beige, and there are small pop ups of blue and green along the wall leading to the exposed kitchen.
Each table is ready with soy sauce, vinegar (which is important later), and the tools necessary to eat: chopsticks and small plates, since the menu is all served family style. Staff was friendly and quick with checking in on us from the moment we sat down.
It wasn’t difficult for us to decide on what to order. I ordered the chicken xiao long bao in the half portion of four pieces ($6), as well as the pan-fried vegetable dumplings ($9.95). Dumplings can be ordered steamed, pan fried, or crispy. Pan fried was amazing and crispy enough to dip in the thick soy sauce and (very) spicy chili paste.
My friend ordered pork xiao long bao in the half serving ($6), as well as the shrimp fried rice ($13.50). The pork and broth packed a ton of flavor into a small wrapped dumpling, beautifully twisted on top. They’d be perfect if they were a bit firmer for convenience sake.
Each menu lists a step-by-step guide on how to properly eat xiao long bao, similar to the ever so popular Din Tai Fung. 1. Gently pick up a soup dumpling and place it onto the spoon 2. Add vinegar to the dumpling, then bite the top, and 3. Top the soup dumpling with tiny pieces of ginger.
Since my chicken xiao long bao took the longest to be ready, I enjoyed a couple bites of shrimp fried rice and chicken with handmade mein noodles ($14). I am not typically a fried rice fan, but this was something else here, completely shutting down any reservations I’ve ever had about friend rice.
While the chicken xiao long bao tasted pretty average, the Dan mein was heavenly. Thick cut noodles with large chunks of chicken and complimentary sauce meant we would split the dish and finish it in its entirety. The only bit of leftovers was fried rice, and all else left us more than satisfied yet not overly stuffed since we shared almost every plate. Other items we would’ve tried if there were more of us to eat were pork and shrimp dumplings ($12.50 for crispy), scallion pancakes ($5.75), chicken noodle soup ($9), or sides of vegetables to allow for a break of the carb-heavy dishes like string beans with garlic ($9.50) or pea sprout with garlic ($9.95).
Despite not serving alcohol, Dan has a range of beverage options including organic jasmine green tea ($3) and oolong tea ($2.75). So as long as it’s not too crowded, Dan is a great dinner spot for a group or two very hungry people. Either way, you’re in for a treat and will be happy you stopped in.