Recently in the past few months, three new restaurants have opened in Portland featuring Chinese food. Here’s a quick primer on the three new options for Chinese Food in Portland from Danwei Canting, XLB, and Duck House and what differentiates each one, I’ll do all three of these posts back-to-back. This first post is about Danwei Canting.
What differentiates Danwei Canting is the specialization into food you would be able to get in Beijing. The service is casual counter service which seems to continue to trend this year – you go to the register where you first place your order, pay, and get a Chinese character card which is how they’ll find you to deliver your food. The food comes in simple metal plates or white bowls, and they bus your dishes from your table for you. There is a board above the register with photos of all the food, but you can find descriptions on paper menus right at the door you enter on the Stark Street side (vs the other entrance on the SE Sandy side). You’ll want to head towards the China + Portland mashup mural.
Here, you’ll find Jiaozi, or dumplings, that are steamed and offer fillings of pork jiaozi with ginger, chives, garlic and napa cabbage (white dough skin), lamb jiaozi with lamb, cumin, ginger, fermented chilis and napa cabbage (orange dough), or tofu jiaozi with tofu with sweet potato noodles, scallions, carrots and sesame (green dough). Eat these with the imported Donghu brand of the famous Shanxi mature black vinegar which you pour into the smaller sauce container already waiting with slices of bamboo shoots and ginger. Be generous dunking into the vinegar because that’s really what these dumplings are, a vehicle to get all that sauce.
A not often seen street food, xianbing is also available here, where they offer Spiced Beef Jianbing with the minced beef sandwiched between the flaky dough layers. These are pretty good with or without sauce.
Another common in Beijing but not so common dish you’ll find here are Beijing Peanuts, work roasted peanuts in black vinegar with scallions and cilantro. Other street food options include Xinjiang lamb skewers and Paigu (chinese style crispy pork ribs). I find all three of these to lean more towards “drinking food” as they are not dishes you eat on their own: you need drinks, or other dishes to balance them out. My favorite are the ribs of these three.
As the latter lamb and pork dishes come with just the meat on the platter, you might consider ordering a rice dish. You can just order a side of plain rice, or get a entree with rice. Danwei Canting offers two meat and rice entrees like the Chongqing Chicken, a dish of spicy chicken with whole chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, or Hongshao Rou a dish of pork belly cooked with star anise and cinnamon and fennel seed respectively).
Or try the vegetable dishes of wok seared Cauliflower with Sweet Peppers or the Green Beans with Pork and fermented bean paste. They also offer two dry noodle dishes and wonton noodle with soup, but I preferred the rice dishes to the noodle dishes. With all these dishes notice that they are sized so you can have the dish itself as your individual entree, or at most maybe share among 2 people – so order accordingly, it’s not like the traditional Chinese place with a lazy susan and platters that can feed 4-8.
Danwei Canting also offers a Beijing take on burgers, such as Pork Rou Jia Mou with pork shoulder braised with star anise, fennel seed, and ginger, or a Lamb Rou Jia Mou with lamb, ginger, and chilis, or the Spicy Tofu Rou Jia Mou with tofu roasted with cilantro, sesame and chile. I think this Spicy Tofu burger is the best option for vegetarians, and even for non vegetarians of the burgers.
For drinks, look to the baijiu, which are the national liquor of China. Cheap, strong, and gluten free as it is made from sorghum and rice and usually consumed in small glasses or as shots. The baijiu here at Danwei Canting is courtesy of local Vinn Distillery and is under their Elixers section. You will find flavored versions spicy Sichuan peppers, or Star anise with ginger, clove, and goji, or Asian pear with bamboo and white wood mushroom. They also offer the baijiu in cocktails, like the Danwei Canting cocktail of Lao Ban with Vinn Baijiu infused with fresh ginger and lime, ginger beer, and ginger sugar rim.
A different cocktail I enjoyed was there in January, but replaced in February with the Black Cat cocktail with Burnside Bourbon, Townshend’s Smoke Tea Liqueur, sweet vermouth, splash of black currant syrup, dash of black walnut bitters so it looks like we’ll be seeing them rotate often.
What would you order on a visit to Danwei Canting?