Din Tai Fung joining South Coast Plaza

Before a small crowd of flashing cameras, curious onlookers and hungry attendees, the men stuffed and artfully hand-folded the dumplings with tiny twists.

Soon after, out they came from bamboo steamers during a small gathering Monday afternoon at South Coast Plaza that served as a preview for Din Tai Fung, the Chinese restaurant set to open in the Costa Mesa shopping center in spring 2014.

The restaurant, renowned for its dumplings, will take up a nearly 8,000-square-foot space near the Sears wing. It will absorb the second-floor space prevously occupied by McDonald's, which closed July 7. The 4,000-square-foot fast-food joint, which has maintained a South Coast Plaza presence since 1981, may reopen elsewhere in the center.

Officials said Din Tai Fung is not being designed to replace the Rainforest Cafe, as was previously reported. The jungle-themed restaurant, which opened in 1997, also closed July 7. Its lease was not renewed.

That nearly 16,000-square-foot, first-floor space — also near Sears — is being repurposed for another to-be-determined dining or retail establishment.

The Costa Mesa location will represent Din Tai Fung's only presence in Orange County though there are three other outlets in the United States, said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza.

Aaron and Albert Yang, grandsons of the international chain's founder, Bingyi Yang, told the story of the restaurant's humble beginnings in Taiwan. Now with 80 branches, most throughout Asia, it started with only four tables and their grandfather's life savings to get it going.

All of the U.S. restaurants are family-owned.

"We're proud to join the brands of Din Tai Fung and South Coast Plaza," Albert Yang said. "We look forward to a great future together."

Anthony Poon, a Beverly Hills-based architect, is heading the design team working out the intricacies of the restaurant space. Like the McDonald's, the restaurant will have direct entrances from inside and outside the center, Poon said.

It will feature an exhibition kitchen, 175 inside seats, 25 outside patio seats and a small bar — a first for any Din Tai Fung location, Poon said.

South Coast Plaza officials said the location is likely only to accept reservations for large groups, but a cell phone pager system will alert waiting patrons who may be elsewhere in the center while waiting for a table. The officials also said the former McDonald's location was particularly suitable for its easy access and parking.

The Yang brothers said menu prices haven't been set yet, but they might be higher than the two locations in Arcadia and one in Bellevue, Wash..

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