A new modern Chinese restaurant is coming to South Austin courtesy of two lauded New York chefs. Zoé Tong will be found at 1530 Barton Springs Road in the Zilker neighborhood starting in the fall of 2023.
Zoé Tong is run by former New York chefs-turned-Austin residents and married couple Simone Tong of Yunnan restaurant Little Tong Noodle Shop and Chinese American wine restaurant Silver Apricot, and Matthew Hyland of pizzerias Emily and Emmy Squared. They moved to Austin in 2021 with their young son, had their daughter, and wanted to open their own restaurant. When the South Austin tasting room location of Austin Eastciders became available earlier this year, they jumped on it. The name of the restaurant is a combination of their children’s names.
“We call it modern Austin Chinese,” says Tong. “I’m not taking you to China, I’m taking you to a restaurant on Barton Springs with amazing cocktails, spicy food, and fun.” She adds, “I don’t claim and I never claim authenticity.” Tong is from Chengdu, China; lived in Singapore, Macao, and Hong Kong; and cooked at her Chinese restaurants. Hyland’s experience stems from his New York City upbringing frequenting American Chinese restaurants.
Hyland is excited to use their inherited smoker on the property (from when the address had been Uncle Billy’s). “I’m going to smoke everything I possibly can,” he says. This could mean Chinese sticky ribs, chicken, honey, tofu, fruits, and vegetables.
Zoé’s take on the iconic Cantonese roast duck will incorporate an item that Tong makes for the family’s weekly fajita dinners: a flour tortilla and spring pancake hybrid made with scallions and duck fat. The whole duck will be cured and dry-hung; the legs confited and smoked and the breast lacquered. It’ll be accompanied by smoked duck bone broth, condiments, and vegetables.
And naturally, there will be noodles. Tong is eager to experiment with dan dan noodles made with wild boar and mafaldine pasta instead of the typical long thin noodles because it would work as a good vehicle for the sauce. There’ll also be chilled sesame noodles.
Another dish they’re playing around with is a take on Chinese sizzling beef. This will be made with dry-aged, grilled tomahawk served on a sizzling plate with Mongolian sauce. Elsewhere, there will be crudo, raw fish, sashimi, fried rice, lobster lo mein, vegetables, and dumplings. Tong is going to play with Chinese dry-spiced or cumin-spiced skewers with Texas ingredients like quail, beef, goat, lamb bellies, corn, and okra.
Drinks will include beverages that work well with spicy food, which means tiki cocktails and a margarita machine. For wines, Hyland wants to offer “lots of crisp whites, natural wines, bubbles, and things that go well with highly powerful flavorful food.” There will be Texas wines and beers too.
Desserts will include soft serve, with flavors like milk tea, black sesame, and matcha. Then there could be milk tea creme brulee, peach cobbler, and sesame mochi waffles.
In New York, Tong was the chef and owner of lauded Yunnan restaurant Little Tong Noodle Shop with managing partner and general manager Emmeline Zhao. After opening in 2017, it expanded with two locations but then shuttered permanently in March 2020 during the pandemic.
In 2020, Tong and Zhao opened an American Chinese wine restaurant in New York, Silver Apricot, which became critically acclaimed. Earlier on, Tong worked at chef Wylie Dufresne’s restaurants Wd~50 and Alder.
Hyland co-founded and was the executive chef of New York pizzeria Emily in 2013 with then-wife Emily Hyland. They followed that with also New York-based Detroit-styled pizzeria Emmy Squared in 2016. Emily expanded with a second NYC location, and there are now numerous locations of Emmy Squared throughout the country (though none in Texas).
Tong remains the co-owner of Silver Apricot. Hyland had sold off a portion of his ownership and is no longer the executive chef, but is still part of Emily and Emmy Squared companies. Neither are involved with the day-to-day businesses of those restaurants.
Team-wise at Zoé Tong, Dimitri Voutsinas is the chef de cuisine. The couple ran into him while he was working at his Austin live-streaming pizzeria Show Me Pizza, which he co-founded in 2021. Voutsinas previously worked with Hyland as the head chef of Emily. Voutsinas has since left Show Me Pizza to his business partner.
The restaurant’s general manager is Travis Vergara. He had been the general manager of Terry Black’s Austin location and has worked at Z’Tejas, Cantina Laredo, and Blue Corn Harvest.
If Zoé isn’t open by Austin City Limits Music Festival in October, the two plan on operating a food and drink stand outside of the address, since Barton Springs is a prime location for passersby on their way to the festival at Zilker Park.
The table-service restaurant will start off with dinner service, and add brunch and then lunch at later dates. The physical space includes tables (including larger round tables for big groups) and bar seats. There is also an outdoor patio. Reservations will be available, with room for walk-ins.
Hyland hedges off the weary perception of the New Yorkers coming into Texas to open a restaurant who end up going back to the East Coast often. “We’re here and we’re not trying to import our food as if to be like, ‘This is what you’re missing.” Instead, it’s about sharing themselves with the city. “Simone is going to cook what we like to eat,” he says. “It’s just what we want to do, what we’re hungry for, and what feels good and makes sense.”
Tong’s looking forward to sharing her culinary point of view with her new home. “I hope to bring a new perspective, but, at the same time, trying to find the communities that I can support and also, in turn, support us in the flavors of the food.”