Bolun Yao, a recent NYU graduate school alumnus, may be a relatively new name in the New York City restaurant scene, but his upcoming Chinese fine-dining restaurant, Yingtao, is already creating buzz. In this edition of the Resy Rundown, we sat down with Yao to talk about translating his favorite comfort foods into fine dining, playing Xbox with his restaurant’s namesake, and his vision for a “Chinese night” out on the town.
Here’s everything you need to know about Yingtao, which officially opens in Hell’s Kitchen on Tuesday, Dec. 5.
1. Yao’s grandmother played a big role in inspiring the space.
Named for Yao’s grandmother, Yingtao draws on the deeply personal relationship that he’s had with food, and his grandmother, for his whole life. Yao was born in China, but grew up in New Zealand and came to the U.S for high school and college in California, followed by graduate school in New York.
“I always wanted to open a restaurant. My family [has been] running restaurants or working in the hospitality industry for many years,” Yao says.
His grandmother, in particular, shaped his view of food and hospitality. A makeup artist for traditional Chinese opera, she traveled often and drew inspiration from numerous different parts of China for her art, and her cooking.
“[My cousins and I would] go to school, and for lunch break every day we would go back to my grandma’s house to eat. She was the most important person in my life,” Yao says. “She was a fun type of grandma. We spent a lot of time together, watching the NBA together, playing Xbox together. I could tell her everything about myself, and she was a really good home cook.”
When Yao was in school at NYU working towards his master’s in food studies, the concept for Yingtao came to him, and he’s been working on it ever since.
2. The menu features new takes on traditional Chinese dishes, made fresh for new audiences.
When Yao moved to New York City for graduate school, he was fascinated by the treatment that Korean food received in fine-dining kitchens. He cites favorites like Cote, Jungsik, and JUA as inspirations behind the tasting-menu-only style of cuisine that Yingtao focuses on, which was developed by executive chef Jakub Baster, who previously worked in the kitchens of chefs that include Anne-Sophie Pic and Daniel Boulud, and who originally hails from Poland. The resulting menu is eight courses for $165 per person.
There’s the pipa duck, inspired by a Southern Chinese technique, whereby the skin becomes intensely crispy and slightly sweet. At Yingtao, they’re plating it in a traditional French fine-dining style, served with a pumpkin roll inspired by a Chinese steam bun, and with jus.
Also on the menu is foie gras with Sichuan peppercorns, and cold qiao mai, or buckwheat, served with sudachi.
“When I started looking for a chef, there were three things I knew I wanted: Someone with a strong culinary background, who was open-minded and above all would respect my culture and its cuisine,” says Yao. “When I met Jakub, I knew we had our chef. His global fine dining experience, his collaborative spirit, his dedication to research and recipe testing and just doing the work, has helped bring my vision for Yingtao’s menu to life.”
In the future, Yingtao plans to serve an à-la-carte snacking menu at the bar, but for now the eight-course tasting menu is the only thing on offer.
Yingtao doesn’t yet have a full liquor license, but plans to work to secure one once they open. So for now, you can enjoy a robust wine list spanning from Napa to New Zealand, as well as cocktails made with the wine or sake.
A Closer Look at Yingtao’s Tasting Menu
3. The design is less fuss, more fun.
Yingtao’s interior, designed by Glen & Co. Architecture, wouldn’t feel out of place at a nightclub. There’s plenty of red lighting, golden-gilded tables, and a shimmering mosaic wall. There’s also a tranquil, yet glamorous garden in the back, too. The soundtrack largely leans towards hip-hop, a favorite of Yao’s.
“I tried to blend hip-hop and street culture into a fine-dining restaurant. I would say this is ‘casual’ fine dining – there are some Chinese elements in the details, and then some straight hip-hop and pop culture influences,” Yao adds.
The main dining room seats 38, with an additional nine bar seats.
“I really want people to enjoy the new version of their ‘Chinese night’ out. We’re based in Hell’s Kitchen, which is close to the Theater District and the Broadway shows, so I’m imagining people might come in just for fun and after shopping or even pre- or post- Broadway shows,” Yao notes. “They come to the restaurant, enjoy the music, enjoy the wine, and discover the new possibilities in Chinese food.”
4. There’s more to come from Yao.
Bolun Yao has more on the way, too. His hospitality group, August Hospitality, also has hopes to open a Chinese-inspired wine bar at some point.
“[Right now], I want us to stay focused on Yingtao, so I can bring this to New York City. Then in the future, I have more new and cool concepts to bring,” he says.