Joël Watan­abe

Western Living - - FOOD - Neal McLen­nan

At first blush it sounds like the worst el­e­va­tor pitch ever. A chef who made his name with an up­dated take on Shang­hainese/Tai­wanese food (Bao Bei) de­cides that for his new ven­ture he wants to fuse— wait for it—Ital­ian and Ja­panese cui­sine, give it a non­sen­si­cal name, lo­cate it in a still-tran­si­tional part of town and charge down­town prices. Um, hard pass. But it’s a tes­ta­ment to Joël Watan­abe’s vi­sion that when every­one was prob­a­bly telling him to do Bao Bei 2.0, he and part­ner Tan­nis Ling went the pas­sion­ate route, trans­form­ing a derelict sec­ond-floor room on East Pen­der into an el­e­gant take on jazz-age cool and cre­at­ing a menu that walks an ex­act­ing tightrope be­tween two cuisines that hereto­fore were not thought to be nat­u­ral part­ners. If there’s any­one else on the planet com­bin­ing Snake River Farms Wagyu, pearl onion petals, salt, charred scal­lion sauce, Parme­san, arima san­sho, fresh herbs and gnocco fritto, it’d be a mir­a­cle. But un­der Watan­abe’s eye it all seems like the most log­i­cal idea ever, and the praise—and the at­ten­dant crowds—started the mo­ment the doors opened and haven’t stopped since.—

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