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Chino Undergoes Big Transformation, Chef Ron Pei Steps Into Role of Executive Chef

The menu will focus on fresh Chinese flavors and an overhauled dumpling program.

Chino
Chino
Patricia Chang

After a little over a year in business, Chino, the Asian restaurant from TacoliciousJoe Hargrave and Sara Deseran, is hitting the reset button. Tablehopper reports that the restaurant is currently closed and undergoing a complete internal reshuffle, with chef Ron Pei joining as partner and executive chef.

Interestingly, this isn't Pei's first time working with Hargrave and Deseran: he was the chef de cuisine at Hargrave's first restaurant, Laiola, back in 2009.  And before Tacolicious was even a twinkle in their eyes, Hargrave, Deseran and Pei were tossing around the idea of opening a Chinese restaurant together, named Chino after Pei's nickname from the kitchen crew. However, the timing wasn't right, and the idea had not yet come to fruition when Pei decided to head East, working stints at New York's Blue Hill Stone Barns and Commis, as well as José Andres' minibar in Washington, DC.

In the meantime, the hunt for the right space for Chino fell to the wayside, as Laiola closed and turned into Tacolicious. When the former Andalu space became available in 2014, Hargrave went for it. However, Hargrave says he's always felt that Chino wasn't firing on all cylinders. "Technically it's always done well, as in fiscally well, but the food's just been OK. We didn't set out to be just OK." Despite hiring Shanghainese dumpling maker Leo Gan (who was personally recommended by Cecilia Chang), the xiao long bao were never quite right, a problem exacerbated by a serious language barrier. "The dumplings became a huge problem," says Hargrave. "The idea all along was to partner with somebody who was really passionate about the food and let them run with it. That just wasn't happening."

That's when a twist of fate reconnected Hargrave and Pei, who had recently returned to the Bay Area. (Actually, Hargrave saw that Pei was in town, eating at Lazy Bear Supper Club via Twitter). After rehashing the concept, a quick tasting sealed the deal and the duo decided to start from scratch, beginning with the menu. "It's not just trying to understand Chinese food, its trying to understand San Francisco," says Hargrave. "Ron and I originally designed this concept together, and he just gets it."

That's not surprising, considering that Pei grew up as the son of restaurateurs, who ran Mountain View's Cafe Yulong until retiring several years ago. And in fact, Pei's father has joined the team at Chino, coming out of retirement to bring the dumplings and noodles up to snuff. The new menu will reflect Pei's experiences growing up in a dumpling house, combined with his time cooking in the Bay Area, using fresh produce and herbs to elevate traditional dishes, like a lamb shoulder mu shu with fresh plum sauce homemade pancakes and plum salad. As for Chino's successful bar program, bar manager Danny Louie will stay on to run it, though this time as a partner with equity in the business; his bar team will stay intact through the big shuffle.

Hargrave says now that he's got the right team in place, "I'm not going to work there. I'm going to step back and let them do their thing." The new and improved Chino will open for dinner with a new menu, staff and more on August 10, with weekend lunch in the works.

Chino

3198 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 552-5771 Visit Website

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