Big Changes at Chino: New Chef-Partner Ron Pei Assuming the Reins After a Brief Closure

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Chef-partner Ron Pei. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Fresh housemade tofu with fried garlic, shallots, and chile oil. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Taiwanese fried chicken with fried herbs. Photo courtesy of Chino.

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Ron Pei with his father. Photo courtesy of Chino.

Some big news over at 16th Street and Guerrero: ~CHINO~ has gone dark for a couple of weeks, and when it reopens on Monday August 10th, there will be a new chef-partner, Ron Pei, and a new menu too. There will also be an updated kitchen and some interior design tweaks too.

It’s funny how things work out: Pei worked as a sous and eventually as chef ​at Laiola (where Tacolicious is now) back in 2009, and owners Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran talked about opening a dumpling-driven restaurant with him. But when Laiola closed and the first Tacolicious took off, Pei ended up moving to the East Coast, where he worked at Blue Hill Stone Barns and Commis in New York, and José Andres’s minibar in DC. But Pei recently came back to SF, and the timing was now perfect to bring him on to change the course of Chino (especially since Chino is Pei’s nickname from Laiola’s Spanish-speaking cooks).

Pei has cooking in his blood: his family is originally from Shandong, and after emigrating to the U.S. from Korea, his parents opened restaurants in the Midwest and eventually California—they ran Cafe Yulong in Mountain View until seven years ago. Pei says his father, who started cooking when he was 17, was his inspiration to become a chef. And even though pop is 70, Pei is getting him back into the kitchen and working with him to improve the dumplings and handmade noodles. He says, “I wouldn’t do it without him! He is my Chinese compass.”

As for the new incarnation of the menu, almost everything will be all-new. Pei explains there will be Shandong roots and flavor profiles in the dishes, but it will also be market-driven, with some Californian creativity. Pei also mentioned his travels will come into play, whether it’s inspiration from Taiwanese night markets to his Midwest background to skills he learned in New York. Pei has been thinking about this concept for years and is looking forward to having some fun with it.

Noodles will be made with wheat instead of rice flour (which is southern), and Pei will be using his dad’s recipe for some water-boiled dumplings (plus some other family recipes). Some dishes he mentioned include an updated version of clams with fermented black beans in a ham-hock jus with jalapeños—it will come topped with a scallion pancake made with bacon fat, mmmmhmmm. Another will be a larger family-style dish of slow-braised lamb shoulder mu shu, with seasonal plum salad, housemade plum sauce, green onion, and cucumber. Look for a Taiwanese beef noodle soup, made with quality boneless short rib, shank, and tongue too. Summer radishes with charred scallion dressing and tomato-orange salad with shiso, cabbage, and crispy rice were also featured on some test meals. A couple of Chino classics that will remain are the xiao long bao (although those are being tweaked too) and a version of the matcha soft-serve.

Some additional news: bar manager Danny Louie is also being brought on as a partner in Chino. Fun history: Louie’s father worked at Cecilia Chiang’s Mandarin and so did Pei’s father. How about that?

Founders Joe Hargrave and Sara Deseran “intend to step back ​(a little) ​and let these two be the true A team, [and] we ​are personally ​funding the makeover because we believe in this restaurant.” I know I am not the only one looking forward to seeing what Ron Pei has in store for us—it’s gonna rock.