Danwei Canting - Beijing food in Portland!

You’re looking for a restaurant that is working to erase 150 years of chop suey from Americans’ collective consciousness, you say?

Well then, I say you should 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 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