When Danwei Canting hit the pop-up scene, it told Eater it would serve the melting pot of regional Chinese flavors found in Beijing with veteran chef Kyo Koo (Bluehour, Mugaritz) leading the kitchen. Now co-owner James Kyle divulges the full story, including his many years spent in China, and confirms Danwei Canting has signed a lease at 811 SE Stark—aiming to open fall 2016.
Working in the computer hardware industry, Kyle lived in Beijing from 2002 to 2015, and when colleagues visited from the U.S., he was known as the go-to guy for deciphering the city's food scene. He'd regularly take his colleagues to dinner, and the night often ended eating street food and drinking 22 ounce Chinese beers. He says his friends loved that they were tasting dishes they'd likely never otherwise taste.
"Danwei is a summation of my 13 years in China and the places I loved to eat," says Kyle. "We want to bring a different but respectful perspective of Chinese food to Portland, with a little edge." But after several research trips to Beijing, Kyle and chef Koo discovered recreating Chinese flavors in America has challenges.
"The produce here is so different," says chef Koo, and even the U.S. pork is much leaner than pork in China, which Kyle attributes to the fact that "most fat was bred out of U.S. pork." Danwei Canting is working to find a similar pork from local butchers like Tails & Trotters.
Danwei Canting has also held test dinners with Kyle's Chinese friends living in Portland, and Kyle says it has been a valuable learning experience and the feedback has been direct and honest. "There are people in the U.S. who love food," he says, "but food is very important in Chinese culture and it seems every Chinese person is a foodie. I mean, didn't the foodie selfie start in China and come west?"
Along with the previously announced dishes, Danwei Canting will serve things like brilliantly colored jiaozi, dumplings colored with carrot juice, purple cabbage, beets, or spinach; Old Beijing-style zha jiang mian, wheat noodles in a caramelized pork and fermented black bean sauce; xianbing, a stuffed Chinese meat pie; mung bean sprout salad with black vinegar, garlic chives, and walnuts; and paigu, pork ribs marinated in xiaoxing wine and ginger, then wok fried and tossed with spices.
Here are the essential details. Opening at 811 SE Stark, Danwei Canting will be 2000 square feet, seating 49 inside, with three or four tables outdoors. It'll have a fast-casual vibe and offer counter service, and once up and running, it will serve lunch and dinner. For drinks, find local and Chinese beers on tap; baijiu cocktails with help from Portland's Vinn Distillery, which makes baijiu; and a few other cocktails.
"I've always wanted to bring my favorite Chinese dishes to Portland," says Kyle. "Now that we have Kyo and a brick and mortar, we can do just that."
Can't wait until the restaurant opens? Attend one of Danwei's pop-ups.