Roughly half a year after Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang closed their acclaimed Sichuan restaurant Cafe China in Midtown, the Michelin-starred team will return at 59 West 37th Street, near Sixth Avenue, on Wednesday, December 1. The restaurant, now housed in a three-story building one avenue over, has been more than two years in the making.
“One year per floor,” Wang jokes.
It won’t be an exact replica of the team’s first restaurant, which became known for its classic Sichuan menu and trend-setting dining room. Here, chefs Xiande Zhang and Yong Xiao, who worked at the former location of Cafe China, are serving a menu that’s equal parts old and new, with a heavier focus on seafood and vegetables.
Favorites from the original Cafe China — cumin lamb, tea-smoked duck, and more — are sticking around, joined now by pig trotters, soft shell crab, and a whole steamed fish that’s served with cayenne and tabasco peppers. A small dim sum crew will join Zhang and Xiao in the kitchen, adding char siu pork puffs, shrimp siu mai, and other Cantonese dishes to the restaurant’s menu, most priced around $10.
“Sichuan [cuisine] is conceived as very passionate, very bold,” Wang explains, whereas Cantonese dim sum can be more delicate and subtle. Combining those flavors on a single menu could easily result in “disaster,” she says, but at the new Cafe China, she thinks they strike the “perfect balance.”
Zhang and Wang had always planned to relocate Cafe China, but a five-month temporary closure wasn’t necessarily in the cards. The restaurateurs intended to reopen before their previous lease at 13 East 37th Street ended earlier this summer, but “it became clear that Covid had also caused major delays in city services and that the new location would not be ready by the end of our old lease,” they shared in a post on Instagram.
Following the closure, former employees of Cafe China took over the space and opened another Sichuan restaurant, named Chili, in its place, which Zhang and Wang allege copied their menu and design. Joe Tsou and Miki Niu, two of four owners behind the restaurant, denied the accusations.
The new Cafe China, which will seat about 70 people over two floors to start, is the latest restaurant opening from Zhang and Wang. In addition to the former location of Cafe China on East 37th Street, which held a Michelin star from 2012 to 2019, the pair is behind China Blue (a Tribeca restaurant that closed during the pandemic) and Birds of a Feather (a modern Sichuan spot in Williamsburg).
Cafe China is open Monday to Friday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.