Review: It's a Panda Dumpling. How Can You Not?
If you spend much time looking at food on Instagram, you have probably seen a few images of the world’s cutest dumpling lately: a disembodied panda head drifting in a bowl, glistening and serene. The panda’s button nose and fuzzy-looking ears are painted on the dumpling skin with bits of black sesame paste. There is a bit of herb cut to resemble tiny bamboo leaf. The sesame-paste eyes twinkle. It is food you would rather hug than eat.
You have been reading about a lot of Sichuan restaurants in this space, and you may be slightly tired of la zi ji and bon-bon chicken, odes to the fugue-like counterpoint of chiles, and stretched metaphors on the numbing power of Sichuan peppercorns. I don’t blame you — my eyes used to glaze over at the mention of chicken Caesar and pasta primavera on the other side of town.
But Chengdu Impression, source of those panda dumplings, is a branch of a well-regarded restaurant in the old Wide and Narrow Alleys section of Chengdu, known for its braised pork, fish in red oil, and Chinese opera stage shows. And the new Arcadia restaurant is devoted to a slightly stilted idea of Chengdu that runs counter to the rest of what you find in the San Gabriel Valley — it may remind you of the regional restaurants in places like Paris or Tokyo that sometimes label themselves “embassies.”