The words "Handmade dumplings" call out to me from signs like liquor ads to a serious drinker. My crew was halfway down the street by the time I tore myself from the window menu browsing and caught up, babbling like a lunatic, "And they have real Beijing food! Lamb skewers and sour cabbage stew!" I pledged to return, to find out if the Dalian House could live up to the Northern-Chinese promises its sandwich board made.
Spoiler alert: it totally did. From the first bite of Northern Pork Tendons (more like mini pork chops than traditional sliced tendon) to the final slice of green onion pancake, the food was impressively good. The hit of the table was the classic twice-cooked pork, which rode in on a wave of Sichuan peppercorns, and was kept around to dip anything and everything (dumplings, pancakes, other meats) into for the rest of the meal.
The further we strayed from straightforward dishes, the more pleasing the results. Neither the kidney nor the intestine dishes held any of the off-putting offal flavor that scares away so many diners. Rather, they were balanced with the sauce and green peppers, and the textures were, to put it politely, American-palate-friendly. If I were introducing a friend to the bit parts of a pig, this would be one of the first places we would go (along with a stop at Ezell's for some chicken gizzards and livers).
As is so often the case with a place like this, there was a downfall. Wedged into the hallway that formerly housed longtime Ave classic Tokyo Gardens, there's not a lot of legroom at Dalian. We had to ask our neighbors to scoot their table a bit to get to our seats. The host had long since abandoned us at the table. They were out of a few of our requested dishes, and we ordered a few skewers that never materialized (though we were not charged for them). Ten minutes after we asked for boxes, we realized you have to pay at the counter. For any lover of good Chinese food in Seattle, these things are par for the course, and since they're serving what might be the best jao zi (dumplings) in the city, I'm willing to forgive the service stumbles.