1/2 As each year passes, a restaurant blog post becomes less and less servicey and more of a fragment of dining history. A majority of what I’ve written here doesn’t reflect NYC’s current scene in any way. I originally started this as a pre-blog dining journal to keep track of what I’d eaten (uh, which is still kind of what this is—the only difference is that now people actually read, or rather look at pictures, about what strangers eat on the internet) and it’s great because even though photos weren’t de rigueur in olden times, I can see the style of cooking that was being employed at Wong’s 2003 predecessor, Jefferson.
Yes, it was more upscale (then downscaled to Jefferson Grill, then closed). Then there was candlenut foam and lobster in kaffir lime nage. Now lobster shows up in fancified egg foo young and pizza shows up alongside noodles. Chef Simpson Wong is adaptable.
Naan does double duty as bread basket/amuse. The warm bread comes with a glass vessel of clarified butter stuffed with a sprig of mint leaves to pour and shred (it’s messy) plus a curry sauce for dipping. It’s like luxurious roti canai.
I’ll admit I chose the Hakka pork belly because of the tater tots, i.e. taro fritters with hint of lemongrass (or maybe lime leaves). But the lacquered hunk of meat, crispy and sticky along the surface and perfectly tender beneath, was the star. Pickled anything is always a good foil for fattiness, and the tiny Hakurei turnips and tuft of salad were a good match. The original temptation, the tots, were room temperature, though. They had the potential for greatness—I could see something wu gok-like being done with them.
The substantial duck meatball went more Mediterranean, using spiced tomatoes and feta. Of course cast iron skillets signify a farmy ethos, adding to the formerly unseen “Asian locavore” concept that’s also taking off at RedFarm.
The lobster egg foo young. While I didn’t sample the shellfish tail, I appreciated the umami richness of salted duck egg yolks and dried shrimp granules. The salty and fermented edge shifted the dish far from its traditional namesake.
The duck was the most conventional, or rather non-Asian, dish, sliced, rosy, with collard greens, charred grapes, and squash (also present in the duck meatball). Coconut vinegar, a typically Filipino ingredient, did make an appearance and cut through some of the fowl’s naturally oiliness.
Sure, the duck ice cream dessert had outré appeal, but I kind of wanted to see the promised “wee apple.” It arrived as one component in an autumn extravaganza of brown butter, caramel, cinnamon, and more apples.
I don’t know if it was because we’d made a reservation or it was the luck of the draw, but we got one of the few two-seaters in the window instead of a place at one of the dreaded communal tables (there’s no convincing me that sharing tight quarters is fun). And while busy, the table next to us remained open the entire time. There’s no good reason why Wong has availability on a Friday night while nearby Tertulia and Whitehall are standing room only.
The prices are fair, the atmosphere polished-casual—I like how the music shifted from adult and jazzy to Hall and Oates’ greatest hits to The Smiths’ first album, as the night progressed—and the food creative. The only weirdness was with timing; there were long gaps between courses and varying food temperatures on the same plate. Hopefully, the kinks will get sorted out. I’d hate to see Wong morph into Wong Grill…and you know the rest.
Wong * 7 Cornelia St., New York, NY