There’s no shortage of amazing Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles area. One of the standouts—the one that requires serious strategic planning in order to score a table—has to be Din Tai Fung. Of course, when you went to its two San Gabriel Valley locations, it was all about the food. The surroundings were an afterthought. Happily, outstanding dumplings and compelling architecture have come together in the company’s newest outpost in Glendale, just north of Los Angeles.
“Their only direction was modern Chinese,” says Anthony Poon, of Poon Design, the architect responsible for the new space. “It could mean anything—they didn’t want a Panda Express Chinese restaurant or a Disneyland Chinese restaurant with dragons and red and gold curtains. They wanted it to feel Asian but not feel transported back 2000 years, so it was a pretty open approach.”
For the space, Poon had to create a presence on the street, so the façade is entirely glass, allowing passerby to see into the bar and dining. Perhaps more importantly, he created an exhibition kitchen at the center of the vast restaurant. “The dumpling kitchen is critical, because no other restaurant has such an event,” Poon explains. “It really is an art form. Open kitchens are created to present something to diners, and Din Tai Fung has something so unique to present.” In fact, it was “the craft of the dumpling that drove the overall design,” he notes.
The restaurant is a testament to material honesty and customization. All of the furnishings were designed or significantly modified for the space. Throughout, Poon used elemental materials, one of the few other directives of his clients, so there’s stone and wood—not synthetics pretending to be. He also “stuck to elemental qualities of architecture,” he says, so classic forms, screens, among others, play a critical role in the design. In a contemporary twist, modern fabrication techniques came into play, in some cases, water- or laser-cutting the screens.
Poon has another Din Tai Fung in the works, in Orange County at South Coast Plaza. Like the Glendale location, “it’s about craft and capturing the artistry of the dumplings,” he says. “It’s about combining the old and the new, in this case, the old way of cooking and architecture that goes back thousands of years with some new ideas in architecture and design.”