More than half a year after closing to overhaul its menu and kitchen, Brickell Chinese spot Da Tang Unique reopened last month with a more approachable, partially westernized menu.
Gone are the fatty duck wings, the sea cucumber shreds sautéed in a fermented-seafood-tinged XO sauce, and the cumin-dusted lamb ribbons wrapped in thin pancakes. In their place is an extensive list of dim sum offerings available throughout the day and night. The four-page menu is now also broken down like take-out Chinese menus, with separate sections for chicken, pork, seafood, and vegetables.
New Times visited Da Tang for a complimentary preview to see how the place has changed since we published a glowing review in March the same week the restaurant announced its temporary closure.
At first glance, much is the same. Jarring crimson walls, weathered-looking lattices, and Chinese pottery still fill the 120-seat eatery. One night in February when I visited Da Tang for a review, my table was one of only two filled. On another, a friend and I were the only ones in the house.
This Thursday, only three tables were occupied, a fact that was masked by a boisterous networking crowd of suits sipping ginger-laced mojitos.
The restaurant is owned by Chinese businessman Shanjie Li, whose American Da Tang Group oversees a fleet of companies seeking to advance the most populous nation's business interests abroad. The firm owns real estate, golf resorts, and yacht clubs and consults for Chinese clients on everything from immigration to legislation. Li is also general manager of a development company, tied to China's housing authority, that's spending tens of millions of dollars on prime Miami real estate to build high-rise condominiums. When it originally opened, Da Tang Unique seemed to be a place where Li could offer clients, investors, and perhaps even Chinese government officials a taste of home.
There are still bits of it in the new menu, but those items are hiding among dry-as-jerky chicken satay ($9.25) and hunks of deep-fried lobster tail ($39.99) meat gripped by a cloying "spicy Szechuan sauce." A similar concoction is doled out onto crispy eggplant ($12.95) that appear as thumb-size spears entombed in a crackly shell. Without that sauce, they'd be fine.
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The pork soup dumplings ($15.99) are a serviceable option filled with intense ginger and pork-fat notes. The skins are a little thicker than usual, but there's no shortage of slick broth that comes gushing out of them at first bite. Lotus-wrapped sticky rice ($3.99) arrives unpacked and topped with chicken, egg, shrimp, mushrooms, and a squiggle of what seemed to be Kewpie mayonnaise. The finishing was reminiscent of Japan's okonomiyaki.
Alongside those two, the crispy duck ($25.95) is one of the best options on the menu. Half a duck's work of meat, fat, and crisp skin are separated from the carcass. It's far more affordable than the "Beijing duck" (half for $50, whole for $75), which is a more opulent affair presented tableside with hoisin sauce and scallions to be wrapped in thin pancakes. It seems the crispy duck meat is culled from the same batches the kitchen uses to make its duck shred dumplings ($5.99), duck buns ($8.99), and crispy duck salad ($12.95).
It's difficult to tell whether all of these changes will improve Da Tang's fortunes. Given the dearth of customers on a recent weeknight, it seems things might be grim. But, hey, at least Brickell has an affordable duck dish (it costs $92 up the street at Komodo) and soup dumplings for the moment.