One of the most interesting parts of new downtown Dallas restaurant Fine China -- beyond the food, of course -- is its tea selection. Whether dining during lunch or dinner, it would be a mistake to not order tea.
And the options are plentiful: The restaurant will offer tea service, which means diners can learn the intricacies of hot tea by smelling loose tea leaves and drinking steaming cups of tea poured from an adorable porcelain set. Diners can also opt for cold-brew teas, or nonalcoholic drinks "treated as if they were cocktails," says Kyle Hilla, beverage director for all of the Statler's restaurants. His oolong coconut tea, cold-brewed for two days and finished with vanilla syrup, is one example. Hilla's menu also infuses tea into cocktails, such as the Hidden Gem: a vodka-tea-bubbles drink with boba pearls swimming in the bottom.
Given the restaurant name Fine China, it's a delight to find tea cups playfully arranged on the wall as if they were your grandmother's mismatched selection, dancing. That wall is one of several artful pops of color that might make this new restaurant inside the trendy Statler hotel feel like a spot for date night or girls night: Colorful raspberry curtains cordon off each 10-person private room; olive green velvet booths flank elegant maroon and navy floral wallpaper; and a long table up front offers small-group seating with a communal feel. The walnut bar in the middle of the room, with sight lines out to Main Street Garden and the busy front door of the Statler, encourages a see-and-be-seen vibe.
But tea, cocktails and decor aside, executive chef Angela Hernandez's menu is the draw here. Hernandez is an impressively trained chef who studied Cantonese cooking from dim sum masters in Las Vegas and chefs in New York to prepare for Fine China's debut. Prior to Fine China, Hernandez opened Top Knot in Uptown Dallas (which has since transformed into Uchiba) and has an impressive past at restaurants such as L'Atelier by Joël Robuchon in New York and the Bazaar by José Andrés in Los Angeles, among others.
Fine China is her first time getting to create a modern Chinese restaurant, and barbecued meats and dim sum are its main attractions.
"The one thing I knew I wanted to do was roast duck," Hernandez says. (During our interview, she had to leave momentarily to tend to a duck roasting in the new oven she says no one else in Texas has.) Though the menu allows Hernandez and her team to play with the idea of what Chinese cuisine means for a Texas audience, the roast duck is traditionally Chinese, she says. It's also wildly time-consuming, as its three-day process includes brining the bird and aging it before it's roasted and served to diners alongside steamed buns, cucumber, scallion and peach-hoisin barbecue sauce. Available only at dinnertime, a whole Cantonese roast duck is the restaurant's most expensive item, at $75.
Fine China's menu is meant for sharing and "grazing," Hernandez explains. "There's really no rules or boundaries." Items like the xiao long bao, or steamed pork buns, cost just $6; the pork and shrimp shu mai (a dumpling Hernandez learned to make by taking video of the dim sum masters, then watching and re-watching) costs $9.
Hernandez's favorite dish -- and one bound to be popular, given that diners probably recognize the name -- is chilled dan dan noodles served with a spicy pork ragu, chile oil and crushed peanuts.
Next-door to Fine China, and also part of the Statler's new fleet of restaurants, is a fast-casual place called R&B, which stands for ramen and bao. R&B has a separate menu from Fine China but was also created by Hernandez and chef de cuisine Josh Bonee. It's expected to open just a few weeks after Fine China, and yes, the chefs are already feeling the pressure. R&B is expected to serve food until 4 a.m. on the weekends.
Dallas isn't known for its Chinese food, but a movement sparked in New York City and San Francisco has now inspired Dallas restaurateurs to get in on modern Chinese cuisine. Gung Ho, a newish restaurant on Greenville Avenue in Dallas, is one example. Another is Hot Joy, the shortlived Asian restaurant (where Chinese was just one influence) that was purposefully inauthentic. Hernandez at Fine China seems more focused on paying tribute to traditional Chinese food while also using her French culinary background, her Korean-Mexican heritage and her upbringing in the South to develop the menu.
"I really feel very passionately about every dish on this menu," she says.
Fine China opened Tuesday, July 10 and is located at 1914 Commerce St., Dallas. Next door, the more casual R&B restaurant is expected to open by the end of July.
The Statler's restaurants, operated by Epic Food & Beverage, include: diner and coffee shop Overeasy; bar and bowling alley Scout; rooftop pool Waterproof; and speakeasy Bourbon and Banter.