CINCINNATI -- When Huit made its debut at 29 E. Court St. in 2014, it introduced Cincinnati to Asian-inspired craft barbecue served with a generous helping of fun and personality.
Huit rebranded as Chino-Latino restaurant Lalo in 2016, and on Thursday, the eatery will transform again, this time into “DOPE! Dumpling and Noodle Shop.”
If you’re getting the impression the 36-seat spot on Court Street seems a tad experimental, you’re not wrong.
“(The place) lends itself to being a ‘lab,’” said Tobias Harris, one of the owners of Huit. “People follow us and embrace what we do.”
The location approximates a proving ground for Huit’s concepts. Harris said Lalo did so well that he and his business partners, Trang Vo and Ed Reyes, decided to replace their 1-year-old restaurant Neuf, located at 709 Main St., with Lalo. Lalo opened at its new location in September, and Harris and his partners got to work on rebranding the Court Street spot.
This time, they teamed up with food service veteran Kam Siu, who is one of the owners of the food distribution business Panda Trading Co. Siu has known Harris since Huit first opened, and Panda Trading is a food supplier for the Huit group’s restaurants, which now include DOPE.
“We want to introduce different concepts here and see how they do,” Siu said, referring to the Court Street location. He said the group’s goal is to tease out the best-received aspects, design a concept around them and launch the concept elsewhere in a bigger space.
DOPE, which offers limited service geared toward the lunch crowd, is designed to emanate a distinctively ’90s vibe.
“It’s a reflection of the life, spirit, outlook and attitude of the proprietors … growing up in the midst of hip-hop, ‘In Living Color,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld,’” Harris said.
The restaurant retains the familiar purple walls of Huit and features an attention-grabbing mural of “Chuck” slurping down a bowl of noodles. The walls also feature movie posters and CD covers – from the ’90s, of course.
“We strive to create a place that is upbeat, stays true to our heritage, (is) edgy, sexy, yet humble and approachable,” Harris said.
DOPE will debut with a streamlined menu of dumplings, noodles and rice bowls. However, Huit fans will recognize a handful of classics like lemongrass chicken laksa, drunken brisket over rice and “very” drunk brisket noodles.
Customers can choose from pork, chicken, shrimp or vegetarian dumplings – boiled or pan-seared – and their choice of sauces: chili garlic; soy vinaigrette (using Chinese black vinegar) and green onion; roasted garlic Sriracha aioli; coconut peanut with lime; and gojuchang and honey.
Noodle bowls include spicy miso ramen and sweet char siu (Asian barbecue pork), laksa grilled chicken curry, dan dan noodles (vegan or with beef), and “very” drunken brisket and Shanghai noodles. DOPE plans to roll house-made ho fun (flat wide noodles) with beef at a later time.
Customers also can choose from the lineup of rice bowls: drunken brisket (Taiwanese style) with boiled kale and crunchy toppings; Indonesian-style fried rice with seared lemongrass chicken or tofu (vegetarian), carrots, cucumber and fried egg; and Japanese char siu with bok choy and half-boiled egg.
There also will be a couple of salad options, such as kale peanut ginger salad and green papaya salad.
Harris said while DOPE is different from Huit in concept, it is “very Huit in spirit.” Both Huit and DOPE pay homage to the owners’ Asian roots but have an unmistakable global energy.
“We don’t want to forget our past, but I do realize our customers live in today’s (multicultural) world,” Harris said.
DOPE! Dumpling and Noodle Shop
Opening Oct. 26, 2017
29 E. Court St., Downtown
Lunch only 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday. Carry-out, delivery and catering are also available.