A team of intrepid tour guides has turned the pandemic shutdown into a productive pivot by opening DD Hibachi, a new grill and dumpling-focused restaurant serving up creative Asian fusion flavors on 9th Avenue.
Formerly home to short-lived Italian eatery Pozzo and popular Thai eatery Room Service, DD Hibachi is the second Hell’s Kitchen location from co-owners David Dong — who gave it its name — Patrick Li and Wayne Went, who is also chef. The first, DD Soup Dumpling House, is just around the corner on W42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenue.
Li and his co-owners were working as tour guides when the COVID-19-induced shutdown of the travel industry forced them to change course. “We were working at a tour agency for almost 20 years,” Li said. “We thought: ‘we’ve known each other for a really long time, we should do something for our fellow employees’ because tourism is not good now, but people still have their families to support. So we decided: ‘Maybe we can open a restaurant, and everyone can work here while we wait for tourism to come back’.”
Already well-versed in where tourists and locals like to dine, Li’s team felt that Hell’s Kitchen was exactly where they needed to be. “We had already done the research,” he said. “This is a central location that is really developable right now.”
Li, Went and the team began to develop their mix of freshly made soup dumplings and Hibachi cuisine — a traditional Japanese style in which food is cooked on a large, smooth metal grill over charcoal. The open kitchen is part of the hibachi tradition. In addition to popular classics like hibachi-style samurai steak, lobster and shrimp, as well chicken teriyaki and salmon teriyaki, the cafe soon plans to offer dumplings, prepared tableside in a section of the restaurant’s dining room.
“Everything is fresh — we don’t do frozen and we get fresh meat delivered every week,” said Patrick Li. The restaurant’s menu is still being modified and expanded during their soft opening period, but as well as adding dumplings, the team also plans to hire another chef to provide a private backyard tasting experience. And they will put the space’s leftover pizza oven from the shuttered Pozzo to work — although for Asian-fusion barbecue rather than pies.
If all of this seems ambitious, Li doesn’t seem fazed. Just 10 days in, they’ve already experienced a warm response from Hell’s Kitchen neighbors and the now-recovering tourism industry. “We bring visitors from Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston, Canada Mexico and Europe to this corner of the world,” he said, adding that they are “really focused” on bringing a top-notch culinary experience to customers. “We are hiring more local people, and we are still trying things out and mixing things up — we want to make sure that everything tastes good for our neighbors.”
DD Hibachi (no website yet) is located at 690 9th Avenue between W47th and W48th Street, and is open every day from 11am to 11:30pm.