Ron Yan, who you may know as the executive chef at Parcelle, has branched out on his own for the first time in his career. He’s starting with a bang of a passion project – Tolo, a Chinese spot with everything from crab fried rice to seaweed-dusted fries. He’s taking the wine knowledge he gained at Parcelle to increase the appeal of his new restaurant, which plans to be cozy, welcoming, and above all, delicious.
We sat down with Yan to chat about his menu, why he decided to do Chinese cuisine, and the 300-bottle wine list.
1. Yan is ready for the Chinese food renaissance.
Tolo, named for a harbor in Hong Kong, sits on the border of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. For Yan, the location, as well as his heritage, informed what the restaurant would become.
“I was born in mainland China, but my first memories are from when I moved to Canada. Then I moved to Hong Kong when I was eight, and then to Plano, Texas for high school,” Yan says. “My international upbringing and my travels throughout the world definitely influenced the type of food that I will be showcasing.”
Yan doesn’t think that a Chinese restaurant would have been the one he dreamed of opening when he first moved to New York – back then his sights were set, like many others, on New American cuisine. Now, though, he says that Chinese food is ready to be in the spotlight.
“Chinese food is coming up with its own renaissance,” he says. “I’m grateful to be part of this area. I’m Chinese, so why not just make Chinese food that I crave?”
2. The menu is playful, with something for everyone.
As an example of Yan is forging his own path here, the menu at Tolo includes a selection of raw items.
“People don’t usually think of raw seafood to go with Chinese food. It’s more like Japanese or Korean,” Yan says. “But, because I lived in Hong Kong for eight years, one of the biggest fresh seafood cities in the world, I wanted to do a raw seafood section using the same flavor profile, but transforming it to my creations.”
These creations range from oysters with Szechuan oil, lightly seared scallops with puffed rice and garlic puree, and tuna with sesame and sweet soy.
I’m Chinese, so why not just make Chinese food that I crave?— Ron Yan, Tolo
Then, there are the snacks. Boiled peanuts, string beans with minced pork, and water spinach with fermented tofu are all on offer.
“I’m really proud of the boiled peanuts. They sound really simple – it’s just a homey dish that evokes memories of when I was with my family by the TV during Christmas or Chinese New Year,” Yan says.
Next, crab fried rice, noodles with XO, “typhoon shelter style” chicken, sweet and sour crispy fish, and a shaken french fry dish inspired by the international McDonald’s menu.
“I’m really excited for [the fries]. I’m going to shake them in a paper bag with seaweed powder,” he adds.
3. Custom accents abound within the space.
The space at Tolo will seat 36 guests total, with six of those seats at the bar. There are custom leather banquettes alongside the side wall, with a communal table designed by Chinese American designer Danny Ho Fong at the front of the restaurant.
Fong also designed the rattan bar seating, directly in front of the widely open kitchen. There are also a variety of other sourced touches, like a Borsani bar host stand and antique Chinese compartment shelving.
Yan describes the vibe: “I would tell my friends to come here on their days off and just have a comfortable place to chill with great food and great wine.
4. And yes, expect great wine.
His ongoing work at Parcelle — a national wine retailer with a namesake wine bar and Pig Bar, both close to Tolo — influenced his passion for wine. The Parcelle team is contributing some of their knowledge to assist him in crafting the wine list for Tolo.
“Working at Parcelle has definitely made my culinary focus more defined,” Yan says. “You have to think about wine pairings and what will go well with the wines being served [when you create the menu].”
At Tolo, the list tops 300 bottles, with selections from small producers alongside more traditional collectibles. They’ll have an in-house sommelier to walk people through the list.
“[They’ll be there] to give suggestions about pairings and navigate the wine list. 300 bottles – I mean I get overwhelmed by 50 bottles,” Yan laughs.
Tolo is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.