Main Course: A Look at Paradise Dynasty

Paradise Dynasty Review Orange Coast Magazine
Dishes from Paradise Dynasty in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Is this the golden epoch of dumpings? All signs point to yes, after years of building to the current crescendo, signified by the September debut of Paradise Dynasty at South Coast Plaza. Lengthy lines are here to stay, given we saw this movie in 2013 when Din Tai Fung arrived with a waitlist that has yet to wane.

Clearly, there’s plenty of dumpling adoration to share with this new player parked at the Bloomingdale’s end of the world-class retail destination. Rarely has a new restaurant generated so many “How is it?” queries. My short answer: slightly the same but irrefutably different than Din Tai Fung. Differences grew more detectable with every successive visit.

Let’s begin with those bamboo steamers laden with dozens of tender xiao long bao, literally oozing hand-crafted rapture. It’s rare to see a table here without one, or five. Steamers by the stack are now a common sight in O.C., considering the emergence of more than 20 dumpling shops in recent years.

Start with the specialty rainbow sampler— everyone else does. Eight distinctly varied juicy dumplings with color-coordinated wrappers to suit. Servers hand out tiny cheat sheets to guide you from delicate to rich to bold fillings. Jade green for luffa gourd, black for black truffle, chile red for fiery chicken, and so on. Find a favorite and order a basket of more, in batches of six or 10. I can’t quit the lush foie gras dumplings that release a silky flood of umami unlike any foie dish that’s gone before. Next time, I’ll conquer my dependence and swap to a basket of musky black truffle or salty-sweet crab roe XLB.

Luxury dumplings are the Paradise Dynasty hallmark, a breakaway from the Singapore pack that’s paid off spectacularly. Though this is founder Eldwin Chua’s first foray in the U.S., he’s setting up for more and his record is impressive—45 locations across Asia since starting in 2008, plus many additional concepts for a total of 100 units in the Paradise Group, Singapore’s largest restaurant operator.

The sprawling 200-seat Paradise Dynasty dominates the Bloomingdale’s-operated space, once home to Charlie Palmer Restaurant, now remodeled to include petite sister concept Le Shrimp Ramen downstairs. Sleek and straight-forward, the top floor setting’s centerpiece is an exhibition kitchen that showcases 20 nimble dumpling artists fussing over your next order. An 11-stool bar serves beer, wine, and sake cocktails for now, and it’s the stealthy way for one or two to snag a no-wait seat. Swish chandeliers worthy of a high-glitz Las Vegas destination trick out the expanse.

Don’t let the scores of deluxe XLBs distract you from the 83-item menu rich with consummate dishes. Whether you wrestle with page after page of the hardcover tome, scroll through the QR code edition, or take the wise advice of patient servers, consider all categories. Appetizers, dim sum, la mian, fried noodles, rice dishes—all have their intriguing options.

Up for something red hot? The Spicy Szechuan Crispy Chicken dish is admirably fiery thanks to liberal use of sliced garlic and chopped red peppers. I’m told that early on, the kitchen tamed spicy dishes in deference to local palates until customers pressed for the customary full magnitude. Mapu tofu is easier on the tongue-numbing green peppercorns, so that ginger and garlic are also obvious in the russet pork sauce that transforms a bowl of fragrant rice into cool-weather contentment.

Paradise Dynasty Interior Costa Mesa California
Inside Paradise Dynasty’s Costa Mesa location. Find it in the Bloomingdales building at South Coast Plaza.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

Two dim sum dishes on constant repeat in my memory are the warm radish-filled pastry with countless fragile layers, and a tidy stack of cool, crisp lettuce rolls that taste like the color green. Until dunked into their gentle sesame sauce. They’re vivid, squeaky fresh, and addictively novel.

Springy la mian noodles are carb-heavy skeins of satisfaction should you tire of translucent dumpling skins. Consider the soulful topping of mushrooms with minced pork or pan-fried Shanghai pork buns. Pork chop over fried rice is a fairly mainstream call, but so what if that means you’re compelled to eat every grain. Don’t skip soups, starring the spellbinding pork bone soup— intense, nuanced, and rightly acclaimed. Prawn and pork wontons are extra lush when paired with the signature broth.

As exalted as Kurobuta pork is here, just know chicken is a sleeper pick, particularly the XLB or chicken dumplings in chile vinaigrette.

Dessert is clearly a distinguishing forte. Pancakes with red bean paste are likely more familiar than, say, the sweet soup of peach tree resin (sap) and chopped curls of snow fungus, a clear sort of mushroom with a bouncy texture. Griddle-hot pumpkin pastries are the healthiest doughnuts in Costa Mesa. Warm black sesame balls are one-bite treats that go down like peanut butter mochi.

I predict our keen appetite for juicy dumplings will only increase with the options available. Don’t expect waits to decrease at either end of South Coast Plaza. Paradise Dynasty is doubling down on dumplings, and the increased supply is a welcome bonus. Consider it an embarrassment of riches, then finagle a way to visit midweek between lunch and dinner when lines are shortest.

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