Nguyen Tran, one half of the couple behind Starry Kitchen, is sitting in Chinatown's Grand Star Jazz Club, looking at the columns painted gold and green in a camouflage pattern. "Those are going to be repainted," he says.
He and his wife, chef Thi Tran, have partnered with Grand Star to take over the kitchen at the 75-year-old restaurant-turned-nightclub, and spruce up the dining room. While the Trans operate Starry Kitchen, the Quon family's Grand Star will still function as a bar and music venue -- a quirky combination that seems like a match made in heaven, or Chinatown.
The nightclub may serve its cocktails in red plastic Solo cups, but the food will be Thi Tran's crowd-pleasers: chili crab gumbo with buttermilk beignets, crispy tofu balls, and pandan churros with coco kaya cream. Nguyen Tran says starting in a few weeks they expect to operate dinner service until about 10 p.m., with late-night bar bites available -- "served on paper plates" to go with the Solo cups. He may or may not be joking.
The kitchen has been out of use for a decade, so the next weeks will be devoted to getting it operational. "It's a total Cantonese kitchen," says Nguyen, referring to the eight wok stations. "Thi's half Cantonese, so she's really excited."
"We've been a pop-up for the last year. It was always meant to be an interim step" before relocating to a permanent restaurant, says Nguyen. Until last month Starry Kitchen, which moved out of its California Plaza location last year, was a dinner series -- Starry Kitchen Nights -- at Fred Eric's Tiara Cafe.
"We'll transition the entire dinner menu and retweak the items" at Grand Star, says Nguyen. "We're getting a lot of requests for lunch, so maybe we'll figure out doing lunch here, maybe do deliveries downtown."
Meanwhile, the Trans also are working with designers Patry Kline to freshen the decor. "Ricky Kline is helping us figure out how to redesign in stages," during which time Grand Star will remain open, Nguyen says. "How do we marry with a nightclub atmosphere and not alienate customers. It's kind of hard as a dining place – we're trying to open it up and make it lively.
"Eventually there will be a mural, repaint the columns, paint it brighter, hang festoon lights across the entire ceiling in a different pattern. Not Chinese lanterns, but festoon lights. It'll be like you’re either in Asia or Mexico somewhere."
943 Sun Mun Way, Los Angeles, www.starrykitchen.com.