Talk to any self-respecting dumpling snob about xiao long bao, and you’ll inevitably land on the subject of Din Tai Fung. The Taiwan-founded chain has maintained a sterling reputation while spreading the soup-dumpling gospel from Indonesia to Los Angeles, even earning a Michelin star at two Hong Kong locations along the way. You can’t blame first-time restaurateur Sean Tang, then, for taking advantage of family connections to poach a veteran chef from the chain to run Pinch Chinese, a new restaurant opening in Soho tonight.
A former executive chef for Din Tai Fung, Charlie Chen helped open all of the chain’s eight locations in Shanghai. He also served on its corporate-chef team, hired and trained chefs for openings, and oversaw two kitchens in Shanghai before he left. In other words: He’s no amateur. His kitchen crew also has seven other chefs from China, including a sous-chef in charge of wok dishes who ran two Din Tai Fungs in Chengdu.
It should come as no surprise, then, that soup dumplings are Pinch’s focal point. There are three versions here, not only the classic pork but also chicken and a seafood variation fortified with pork fat. But it’s not all dumplings. There are dan dan noodles, cumin ribs in the style of Sichuan’s famed cumin lamb, Cantonese-style cod, and wind-sand chicken, an obsessed-over Hong Kong preparation of roasted bird garnished with a mess of fried garlic.
When Tang set out to open Pinch Chinese, he wanted it to be what he calls “region agnostic” and “a New York restaurant,” something evident in the pan-regional menu. He found a general manager in Miguel De Leon, whose impressive, lengthy résumé includes stints at Chez Panisse, Per Se, four years with the Momofuku group, and another four and a half years at Mario Batali’s enduring Casa Mono. De Leon has assembled a wine list that’s a mix of American — like a Red Tail Ridge “PétNat Estate,” from the Finger Lakes — and Old World wines from along the Silk Road into Macedonia and Georgia. There are cocktails, too, like The Savoy Cocktail Book’s Green Dragon (gin, kümmel, crème de menthe, lemon, and peach bitters), and the space is inspired by China’s outdoor dining culture. To that end, there’s textured paint and other design cues meant to make you feel like you’re not inside while slurping soup out of your dumplings.
Pinch Chinese, 177 Prince St., nr. Thompson St.; 212-328-7880