First Look: Tchin Tchin! Bar

The duo who brought you Lucky Belly and Livestock Tavern continues to satisfy our cravings with its latest venture in Chinatown.
Tchin Tchin! Bar offers small—and smaller—plates such as this charcuterie (foreground) and oxtail rillettes with a peppered black berry compote.
Photos: Kawehi Haug


We feel like weird cult kids every time we walk into Grable-Cruz territory. We mean that in the best possible way. Like how some us used to feel about the Harry Potter books. What we wouldn’t have paid for an invite to the Yule Ball!


Fast forward a few years, and we’re standing on Hotel Street at the bottom of a narrow cement staircase knowing that, with every steep step up, we get closer to the next chapter in the Grable and Cruz Take Chinatown chronicle.


Grable and Cruz are Dusty Grable and Jesse Cruz, the duo responsible for Lucky Belly, Livestock Tavern and, most recently, the Tchin Tchin! Bar.


SEE ALSO: 2016 Hale ‘Aina Awards: Champions of Chinatown


Making the climb to the loft space at 39 Hotel St., we couldn’t help but wax nostalgic about all the other times we walked up and later stumbled (carefully, of course) down the stairs from one of our longtime favorite Chinatown haunts, thirtyninehotel.


The urban-hip art space and cocktail lounge jumpstarted the gentrification of Hotel Street back when it was nothing but a block with a bad rap. And we love it that our OG Chinatown spot is now home to the Lucky Belly guys’ third great space.


With a serious vision for urban growth and gentrification, Grable and Cruz are systematically making Chinatown a better place by building destinations that we can’t live without. They’re opening places that make us want to rush in and hang out, and then go back again tomorrow. Maybe we didn’t know that we needed a good ramen shop (Lucky Belly), a rustic American eatery (Livestock Tavern) and now a Mediterranean tapas and wine bar, but we did. Make no mistake, friends: Grable and Cruz know what we want. And we hope they keep giving it to us.


The Tchin Tchin! Bar is our answer to, well, just about everything. Granted, our inclination for the kind of meals that include wine, cheese, cured meats and crusty bread may be informing our feelings, but even if we didn’t boast a strong love of charcuterie, it’s undeniable that Tchin Tchin! has all the right stuff. With a solid menu of “small” and “smaller” plates for sharing, and a long list of wines on a direct-draw draft system that eliminates bottle spoilage, the Tchin Tchin! Bar is quickly becoming our go-to pau hana spot. Because what kind of day isn’t made better by a shmear of fois gras pâté or oxtail rillettes on grilled bread or a plate of escargot and mushrooms in a red-wine demi-glace? Home can wait.


Inside the new bar at 39 Hotel St., the former space of another beloved pau hana spot, thirtyninehotel.


The loft space has been restored to its original brick and cement walls, floors and ceilings, with old-world accents for charm and beauty. Multitiered rectangular chandeliers cast warm light over the long stone bar, while large petaled pendant lights (copper, we think; magnolias, we think) hang over chunky laminated cement tables in curved booths. The Hotel Street windows are draped with just the right amount of moss-green drama: perfectly pleated swag curtains that don’t cover the windows, but rather frame them. It’s a stunning space, but not fragile and finicky. It’s usably beautiful, which is just how it should be if it’s claiming to be a Mediterranean-style eatery and wine bar.


Only in its second week, Tchin Tchin! is still refining its service and kitchen flow. Servers are still finding their groove and settling into their new digs. But, seriously, it’s a minor gripe, especially considering how kind and attentive the servers are, even when they are slammed. The food is straightforward and delicious: good meats, good cheeses, good bread.


And drinks aren’t limited to wine (though we wouldn’t mind if it were). The bottled beer list is long and solid, and the cocktails well mixed. We only have a few complaints (and they are more like quiet murmurs, which barely count). The first is that when we order a blue cheese-y dish, we really want to taste the funk. The steak and blue cheese sandwich, though, was too mild for us, and the cranberry jam too prevalent. Our other beef? We couldn’t find a Portuguese rosé nor a German Riesling on the wine list. But that’s just us being bratty, because we may have found our new favorite wine, an unexpected super-bright Greek white, Skouros Moschofilero 2013, for which we will return time and time again. As if we needed another reason to go back.


The Tchin Tchin! Bar, 39 Hotel St., between Bar 35 and Next Door. Small plates $5 to $28, wine by the glass $6 to $75, beer $4 to $15, cocktails $10. 528-1888