After months and months of elated anticipation, Jin Din Rou officially opened their doors to a mob of famished and impatient customers about a month ago on an already restaurant-laden and culinary-active South King St. Notwithstanding the hegemony of Pan-Asian cuisine in Hawaii, Jin Din Rou immediately enthralled locals and tourists alike for their Taiwanese specialty xiao long bao or soup dumplings (surprisingly, not-so-featured nor readily available in Oahu).
The chaotic and overpopulated restaurant mirrors the atmosphere of China, while the interior decor and architectural aesthetics embodies the essence of Japan. The initial impression is that of a sensory overload (at least in sight, smell, and sound). The structure of the rather small restaurant is simple yet refined, making it visually appealing despite the manifest lack of space and privacy between cramped tables (minus the more spacious booths for parties of 4 or more, an unfortunate discrimination against couples, which I happen to travel in!). The window displaying their dainty kitchen and industrious chefs combined with the savory fragrance of steaming dumplings only arouse further eagerness and hunger for what’s to come, drowning out the commotion of an equally excited crowd around you. But, alas, is all this hype about Jin Din Rou reprehensible? I know that I, for one, have certainly rescinded my enthusiasm and expectations for the seemingly promising restaurant and its dining experience.
Regardless of their temporarily limited menu, the few items that they did have and serve were much less than stellar. They showcased a couple set menus for lunch, which included a choice between two ramens (Won Ton Noodles or Tan Tan Ramen, a noodle soup with a rich, thick, and flavorful broth) served alongside a small basket of their original Xiao Long Bao. Pat chose to order the Tan Tan Ramen while I chose the more straightforward Won Ton Ramen. We both upgraded our soup dumplings to different flavors (Seafood and Spicy), but were initially served the original as a mistake. The Tan Tan Ramen lacked the necessary depth of flavor required to distinguish itself as a Tan Tan Ramen. An excess in oil created a broken and thicker-than-welcomed film over the soup, which tasted strictly of burnt sesame oil and nothing more. The Won Ton Ramen was also a great disappointment. The broth, which should be filling and flavorful, was meager with the sole flavors of oil and soy sauce being discernible. The Won Ton within was mediocre, definitely nothing special.
Though their ramen dishes could be overlooked by some to a certain extent, their supposedly specialized item (Xiao Long Bao) was also notably disappointing. Per recommendation, I gently dipped the dumpling into a mixture of black vinegar and soy sauce and garnished it with a few shreds of pickled ginger. After delicately creating an opening in the dumpling, I tried the soup released from within that I found slightly disheartening. The soup within the fine outer layer was reminiscent of the Won Ton Ramen broth with perhaps a stronger hint of pork. Again, it was not extraordinary and I was not impressed.
The nadir of this baffling experience was the service. An inchoate and less than perfect staff at a newly opened restaurant is understandable, if not partially-expected, but inept employees and substandard (actually, a euphemism for seriously abysmal) service is unacceptable. As mentioned earlier, we upgraded our original dumplings to seafood and spicy, but we received two original ones instead. Upon asking, which dumpling was which since they were not distinguishable, multiple servers (obviously untrained and unfamiliar with their restaurant’s items) assumed that one was Spicy and the other was Seafood in accordance to our order. However, after tasting each, we realized that both were the same type and they were all original, not Spicy nor Seafood as we had ordered and had been told they were. The busy and flustered employees clumsily muttered apologies while reassuring us, half-ass, that their mistake was being corrected and our proper orders were on their way. If “on their way” means that these workers are going out to the ocean to catch the seafood to clean, grind, and mold into their dumplings with a long-simmered seafood broth themselves – then fine, so be it. Otherwise, I would much appreciate not having to wait a full 45 minutes for somebody, anybody to correct the mistake and serve the proper order.
The only redeemable thing about Jin Din Rou was that their Spicy and Seafood Xiao Long Bao were actually quite fantastic. Each broth and filling was distinct and bold with a heartwarming quality to them. This aside, I sadly can’t imagine dining there again unless by some miracle, their staff takes classes in hospitality and service and they get rid of their ramen unnecessarily on their menu.
Jin Din Rou
1491 King St
Honolulu, HI 96814