If there’s a food trend as explosive as the new appreciation for authentic Asian noodles right now, it just might be the number of high-design restaurants serving up the fare. A recent case in point: Junzi Kitchen Bryant Park, the third New York location of a four-year-old mini-chain combining modern takes on northern Chinese food with colourful fast-casual settings as distinctive as the menus.
Designed by architect Xuhui Zhang, a Pei Cobb Freed alum who now serves as Junzi’s director of real estate development and architectural design, the Bryant Park outlet lies just west of its namesake green space on West 41st Street in midtown Manhattan.
Incubated at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute in the early 2000s, Junzi opened its first restaurant in 2015 near the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut. In addition to the new Bryant Park site, it has two other locations in New York City: one on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and the other near the uptown campus of Columbia University. Zhang oversaw the design of each.
For Bryant Park, the architect and his team took their inspiration from the outlet’s Theatre District setting on the ground floor of a century-old building, using its concrete columns and beams (evocative of an auditorium’s proscenium arches) to delineate a series of stage-like spaces marked by a restrained yet considered theatricality.
The first space that visitors encounter – the “downstage” dining area – features a row of white marble-topped tables flanked on one side by armless blond-wood chairs and on the other by a banquette upholstered in pale grey leather. Elements including soft-pink menu holders and mint-green accent walls add subtle hits of colour to the room, which is illuminated by a succession of gleaming brass pendant lights. Wood and metal stools sit under a dining counter backed by handmade terracotta tiles along one wall, while the other features white birch plywood shelving displaying graphics designed in-house.
In the “centre stage” area, a mobile island that converts from a refuse station during the day to a DJ station after dark holds pride of place. A green velvet curtain that can be pulled along a ceiling track to conceal the service areas during formal evening events is another theatrical touch.
The “upstage” area at the back of the house, meanwhile, includes the kitchen and service counters where staff turns out the noodles and bings (unleavened flatbreads wrapped around a choice of fillings) for which Junzi has become known.
Even in this service-oriented space, however, the “performance” that Zhang and his team have so carefully orchestrated continues, marked as it is by folded white-stone surfaces, black-and-white terrazzo flooring and neighbourhood-appropriate marquee lights.
Designed by Xuhui Zhang, the Chinese-food chain’s new outpost in Manhattan’s Theatre District has the progressive aura of a stage.