a teatray in the sky

Tao Yuan (Pacifica Cafe)

Posted in 5D Mark II, Food, Gaithersburg, Maryland, Photography by firthefirst on March 23, 2010

the search for the perfect brunch is a ceaseless one.  wars have been fought over eggs benedict, cities razed for the perfect crêpe, families torn asunder because the french toast was just a little bit soggy in the middle.  chinese food has largely declared neutrality and abstained from the conflict, shielding itself behind great walls of tofu.  and just like chinese people, chinese food has come to settle in the DC area, where in the peace and quiet of the suburbs they can send their little buns to high schools ranked in the top 100 by usa today (thumbs down to rankings, an abomination of the pure form of lists).

well anyone who’s watched a Bruce Willis movie knows that peace and quiet just can’t last forever.  and there can only be one sheriff in this town.  so who will be wyatt earp?  and who will be billy clanton?

difficult question?  extremely.  more difficult than Hilbert’s 16th problem?  certainly not.  we’ll take chinese brunch for 500 please.

a recent re-discovery of mine has been Tao Yuan aka Pacifica Cafe.  Lisa’s family re-introduced us to this oasis of shanghainese cuisine in the kentlands and it’s immediately turned into a Li family watering hole.  we will in fact be returning there this weekend to check out some of their custom delicacies that require 48-hour advance notice for the kitchen to prepare, but for now, check out what’s on the weekend lunch menu:

I have no problem declaring right away that the majority of the food here is delicious.  they claim to be shanghainese and they do back it up; haven’t seen my mom so delighted in a menu in a long time.  their noodle dishes are top-notch, in particular the two shown here.  the noodles are plump and succulent and you want to grab the bowl and keep it for yourself.  except there’s just too much other goodness going around.

their beijing dishes are fairly strong as well.  I am picky as they come when we’re talking scallion pancakes, and I love the ones they put out here.  flaky, crispy, and savory.  just like grandma makes ’em.  the most unique dish that I’ve had here is the Shu Mai (shao mai in proper pinyin), shown below.  unlike most shao mai in restaurants around here, they don’t taste like rice glued into a ball and then wrapped in recycled cardboard.  rather they taste like gobs of rice drawn straight from the paddies and kneaded by fairies.  highly recommended.

for those of you who eat chinese and eat it often, you are probably feeling like something has been left out.  you’re right.  note that I haven’t shown two key staples of chinese brunch: the fried breadsticks (you tiao) and the fried flat biscuits (shao bing) that come with the soy milk.  well, just as you wouldn’t go to North Carolina to order some Texas-style ribs, you shouldn’t expect a Shanghainese restaurant to blow your mind on Taiwanese dishes.  because it won’t.  the breadsticks are just too damn doughy and the shao bing, well, we couldn’t quite figure out how they cooked it.  baking and frying?  rising yeast?  one way or another, it was all wrong.

the service is snappy (partly because it’s a very small restaurant) and good-natured (as far as chinese people go).  overall, I’d be happy to eat here again (as noted above, I’m eagerly awaiting this saturday’s dinner) and I don’t want you to think that my disappointment regarding the you tiao and shao bing are reason to miss out on the dining experience Tao Yuan provides.  so to cap off the review, here is one more mouth-watering brunch dish from Pacifica Cafe, the radish cakes (luo buo gao / luo buo si bing):


5 Responses

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  1. Tina said, on March 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    you’re making me hungry. although, the szechuan beef noodle soup colors are putting me off of it. did i really look like that? i rather enjoyed the red-ness and how daunting it seemed to declare outright that the faint of heart beware! of extreme spiciness that will kick your ass.

    anyway, love the descriptions. i want little fairies to make my shu mai too.

    • firthefirst said, on March 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm

      not sure about the beef soup, I thought that was pretty much how it looked. maybe a bit redder in person. but yeah, I’m hungry looking at the photos too.

  2. Luce said, on April 13, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Unfair, your Chinese food looks far more Chinese than that which we get here in Sweden. You just made me really nostalgic, a bit jealous and incredibly hungry.

    I love it though. Thanks (:


    • firthefirst said, on April 13, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      there’s plenty of it here in DC … hope you get the chance to satisfy that hankering sometime, I know there’s nothing more torturous than dreaming of good home-style chinese cookin …

  3. […] we stopped by Tao Yuan in Kentlands was when Wendy and Laura were in town for the half marathon (here).  it took us longer than we hoped for the sequel to come out, but two weeks ago we finally […]

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