Dandan, the new restaurant from co-chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs, is set to open July 29. Historically, dandan (or dandanmian) is a noodle or noodle dish with origins in Chinese Sichuan cuisine; at Dandan restaurant, it’s homage to a favorite food of their childhoods. The co-chefs have wide-ranging culinary experience between them; with Dandan, they chose to cook the style of food that not only evokes memories, but also is still a favorite cuisine that motivates and challenges them in the kitchen. Look for modern interpretations of some classic dishes plus new globally influenced, Chinese-inspired dishes. Dandan serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Lunch, delivery, and carryout are coming soon.
The two chefs met in 2011, and quickly bonded over late night chef events around town and their shared kitchen philosophy that flavor and sustainability are the foundation when cooking. Van Rite, a Green Bay native, is the more game-oriented of the two and has embraced the responsibly raised lifestyle, cultivating relationships with farmers, fisherman, purveyors and growers. Most recently, Van Rite was executive chef at Hinterland, where he was a three-time semifinalist nominee by the James Beard Foundation in the Best Chef: Midwest category. Jacobs, a Chicago native who has lived in Milwaukee since 2011, stays true to his Midwestern roots and farmer relationships while incorporating a global culinary influence.
While serving as executive chef at Wolf Peach, the restaurant was named On Milwaukee’s “Best New Restaurant” and was selected one of the five best restaurants to open in 2013 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In early 2014, Jacobs accepted the executive chef position at Odd Duck, where he continued to garner both media and consumer attention. In late 2015, the two chefs left their respective positions to begin plans for dandan.
At its heart, Dandan has a Chinese soul with a Midwestern sensibility. The menu, inspired by the many visits to Chinese restaurants over the years, is divided into Dim Sum, Dumplings, Pancakes, Noodles & Rice, Entrees and Desserts. From classic Egg Rolls and Crab Rangoon to Charred Sour Sausage—a nod to the unofficial food of Milwaukee—the dim sum offers a variety of choices for traditionalists and more adventurous eaters alike.
Pancakes will change frequently; the opening menu offers a selection including a Chinese Ham Crepe; Mungbean Kimchee; Fried Chicken; and Okonomyaki. Noodles and Rice feature Singapore Noodles; Twice Cooked Pork Belly; Sichuan Rice; Schmaltz Fried Rice and more; entrees shine with the highlight being the dandan noodles—ground pork, chili, oil, bok choy, scallion, cilantro, egg noodles and the classic Peking Duck. Pastry chef Jaceleen Latin-Kasper grounds her menu in classic French technique, with a rustic, familiar and whimsical touch.
Most recently the corporate pastry chef for the SURG Restaurant Group, Latin-Kasper met Van Rite and Jacobs while working as pastry chef at Hinterland. Like some savory items, dessert at Dandan puts a comfort food spin on traditional Chinese dessert items—think Chinese Take Out Doughnuts and Bubble Waffle Sundae.
Bar Manager Jordan Burich has designed a beverage list to complement the food at Dandan. The wine list, as expected, is heavier in whites and rosés, with around 20 by-the- glass selections (two on tap), and a tight global representation (around 30) on the bottle list. Draft and bottle beers are available and will rotate with the seasons; the cocktail list takes a culinary approach and, like the food menu, has a bit of a playful element. Burich, an anthropologist, includes subtle references to Chinese cultural history while maintaining a slightly irreverent tone throughout his list. With a few takes on tropical Tiki-style drinks—the dandan Mai Tai Variation #420 or the Fire Comin’ Outta the Monkey’s Head—the bulk of the cocktail menu explores the relationship between Chinese food and experimental cocktails, and like the food menu, supports local producers (Twisted Path spirits, Top Note tonics and sodas) and changes with the seasons. The house cocktail on draft, the Moon Lake Mule is an ode to Ningbo, Milwaukee’s sister city in China and the ever-popular Brandy Alexander presents here as a Bubble Tea.
Built in 1885 and located in the historic Third Ward in one of the only buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1892, the restaurant’s interior was designed by local firm 360 Degrees.
The Cream City brick exterior gives way to an interior that complements the menu and brings both harmony and contrast to the space. By weaving the yin and yang of traditional Asian design with urban-inspired elements, the ambience is designed to reflect the street culture of the menu.
The focal point of the space is a custom printed mural wrapping around the private dining space, EsterEv; casting a glow onto the mural is a custom designed light installation over the bar. Vivid colors abound throughout Dandan, bringing a visual intensity counterbalanced by abundant natural light.
The semi-private space recalls a traditional dining pergola, with a modern wood and steel facade enclosing the space. Light and dark woods throughout, stained concrete floors, and custom tables alternating between ebonized white oak with brass accents, and maple with ebonized borders and stenciled images round out the space. The natural elements in the design combine to bring a modern yet comfortable feel to the historic building. In season, a patio out front offers al fresco dining and is a great spot to have a cocktail before or after dinner.
Within the restaurant, there are multiple seating options—the main dining room, a semi-private dining space, and EsterEv, the private dining space named after both of the Dan’s grandmothers. Launching in November, this “restaurant within a restaurant”, will be available for seating Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and feature an ever-changing eight-course tasting menu. Designed to have a dinner party feel, the room accommodates up to 20 at two tables of ten and the menu will visit culinary styles from around the globe. A semi-private space with seating for 36 is also available, with the main dining room holding 80. Details on EsterEv will be announced in the coming weeks.