Dandan’s Fresh Take on Chinese Cuisine

Chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite have pooled their skills and love of Asian food at the offbeat restaurant Dandan.

When two local chefs – Dan Jacobs, whose skills have graced Odd Duck and Wolf Peach; and Dan Van Rite, the kitchen backbone at Hinterland – announced they were partnering up for a venture completely new to them, they did their homework.

To prepare for the “inauthentic” American-Chinese restaurant called, well, Dandan, they traveled around Chicago and New York, eating for inspiration. While local company Design 360 was transforming the Third Ward building into a synthesis of Asian street culture and traditional design, the chefs were deciding which dishes to make in a straightforward way or to put a twist on. They mulled over beverages, enlisting their then-bar manager to build a list of unconventional, seasonal cocktails to complement the somewhat nonconformist menu.

Unsurprising to diners who’ve eaten the chefs’ cooking, the menu excels where enough time was devoted to experimenting in the kitchen. Over time staff has seemed more comfortable with the menu, and therefore better able to describe the food. 

For almost every dish – plates categorized as dim sum, noodles and the like – Jacobs and Van Rite can relate a story about how it came about, whether it’s the seafood pancake or the sausage-edamame schmaltz fried rice (a Jacobs childhood fave that gets extra richness from rendered fat).

The Crispy Mushroom 3 Cup riffs deliciously on a dish Jacobs made at Odd Duck. The golden tempura oyster mushrooms are crisp and sweet; the marinated wood-ear mushrooms, sweet/sour and salty. The multi-dimensional dish offers assertive flavors and contrasting textures – bold comfort.

The menu is really on the money with dishes like the chewy pot stickers filled with decadent, earthy foie gras and short ribs; the tender seafood pancake (mussels, squid and shrimp drizzled with Japanese Kewpie mayo and chili-laced “XO” seafood sauce – a savory wallop), the brilliant charred sour sausage with crispy fried rice cakes and romaine-cashew salad, and cumin lamb, whose chewy flat noodles are just as good eaten cold out of a takeout box the next day. Since the summer 2016 opening, Dandan has added lunch service, delivery and the “restaurant-within-a-restaurant” called EsterEv, which offers a completely different prix fixe tasting menu each week. That all sounds like more Dandan to lovelove. ◆

360 E. Erie St., 414-488-8036.
Hours: Lunch Tues-Fri. Dinner Tues-Sat.
Prices: Pancakes, noodles, rice, entrées $10-$69.

This dining review appears in the Dine Out Pocket Guide in the April 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the April issue on newsstands beginning April 3.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.