March 16, a day before Plano’s City Council voted to close restaurant dining rooms in response to the spreading coronavirus, one of the city’s leading Taiwanese and Chinese restaurants decided to close voluntarily.
Wu Wei Din Chinese Cuisine stayed shuttered for 10 days. But regulars started craving its dan dan noodles and pork chop fried rice, and owner Todd Hung started to see a viable path forward. He called to confer with city health officials, brought back 40% of his kitchen staff and devised a takeout strategy.
Today, customers driving up to the Wu Wei Din storefront, on 15th Street a couple of miles west of downtown Plano, are greeted with a set of numbered tables. They’ve called in their orders in advance, and they've been given an order number.
I pull my car up to table 16. (There aren’t 16 tables outside; the numbers are arbitrary.) I call the restaurant again: “Hello, I’m order 35, and I’m at table 16.”
I didn’t know whether hand-pulled noodles would age well — but they do. Back in Oak Cliff a half-hour later, our bowl of noodles, pork wontons and baby bok choy were still perfectly chewy-tender, even if some of the doughs were sticking together ($8.25). Wu Wei Din packs the spicy chili oil separately, a thoughtful touch that means I still have some extra chili oil in my fridge now.
Hung says sales at his restaurant have dropped by a little more than half since the dining room closed.
“We stayed at home for 10 days, we closed the business for 10 days,” Hung says. “But sometimes you still need to get something. My customers missed certain foods. Some of them missed dan dan noodles, some of them missed xiao long bao. We wanted to provide access to them.”
Some of the recipes required gentle tweaking. Soup dumplings are famously fragile and difficult to transport; at many restaurants, the dumplings tear on their way to the table, causing the broth inside to spill out.
Wu Wei Din’s dine-in soup dumplings were good, with well-made dough and a gentle, meaty broth. To make them better suited to life in a to-go box, Hung and his cooks added just about one gram of additional batter to each individual piece.
“Before, we didn’t do xiao long bao for takeout, but now we’re starting to do them,” he says. “Before, the skin is really thin because we want the customer to enjoy the soup inside. Because of the takeout, we increased the size of the skin a little bit but not very much. We think this takeout is going to be a very long time, so we don’t want our customers to miss xiao long bao.”
A gram of dough shouldn’t register on the taste buds, but it should be a critical difference in keeping the dumplings whole.
Two of my favorite dishes on the whole menu travel especially well: golden kimchi, the beautifully balanced cabbage dish that combines gentle sweetness with tongue-prickling heat ($4.75), and Taiwanese stir-fried noodles ($11). The fried noodles are glass noodles mixed with a variety of veggies — most prominently scallions, shiitake mushrooms and carrots — and chopped chicken.
Back at the restaurant, before I’d dug into the fried glass noodles and spicy wontons, I watched two would-be customers arrive and look at Wu Wei Din’s door. The restaurant has a phone number and menu posted in its window. The two strangers pulled out a phone and called in their order from the doorstep.
The power of good dumplings is strong indeed.
Wu Wei Din Chinese Cuisine, 2909 W. 15th St., Plano. 972-985-1688. Curbside takeout available.