The Taiwanese restaurant 886 doesn’t keep open notably late by the requirements of its neighborhood, the East Village. Even on weekends, it closes at midnight. Nonetheless, drenched in purple neon, with most of its seating on stackable plastic stools, it appears to be like like a spot the place you go within the portion of the night when errors in judgment get made.
That is, in any case, a restaurant that provides a drink referred to as the Bad Idea Challenge, a midsize punch bowl stuffed with a cherry-colored combination of wine, soju, sake and Crimson Bull. The problem: If two folks armed with normal ingesting straws (or one individual with a bubble-tea straw) can drain the bowl in six seconds or underneath, they’re rewarded with extra alcohol, within the type of two sake bombs.
A number of months in the past in Brooklyn, the house owners of 886 opened a second Taiwanese restaurant, Wenwen. Every little thing about it means that the companions, Eric Sze and Andy Chuang, are settling down.
Wenwen has actual chairs on the tables and minimalist monitor lights that illuminate a sober wall of uncovered brick. It’s true that one of many cocktails, the Shyboy, is basically an improved Long Island Iced Tea. (To be clear, virtually any change to the unique Lengthy Island Iced Tea is an enchancment.) It is usually true that the Shyboy may be ordered in a “4XL” measurement, served in a glass in regards to the measurement of the one Ina Garten drank her quarantine Cosmopolitans from. It’s moreover true that the Shyboy 4XL has been priced at $69. And, just like the Dangerous Concept Problem, it arrives with a flaming chunk of youtiao bobbing on the floor inside a lime shell.
However there are essential variations. There isn’t a time restrict on how lengthy you need to end the plus-size Shyboy and, when you do, your solely reward would be the satisfaction of a job effectively performed. In context, this needs to be seen as a large step towards maturity.
It isn’t the one signal of maturity at Wenwen, which has been in enterprise on the north finish of Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint since March. The restaurant has a a lot bigger and better-equipped kitchen than 886 does and Mr. Sze, the chef, makes thought of use of it.
Amongst his extra elaborate preparations is one thing referred to as BDSM Rooster. Cool down, class — it stands for Brined, Boneless, Soy-Marinated. Because it has been widely publicized, I do know that BDSM rooster is fried with its ft intact. However as a result of the handful of birds made every night time promote out inside 10 minutes or so of the restaurant’s opening its doorways at 5 p.m., I don’t know what it tastes like.
I can, although, speak about one other of Mr. Sze’s undertaking recipes: the entire farm-raised striped bass. The bones are eliminated and one thing new, a filling of fish paste, is launched to the fish’s cavity. The paste has the ethereal, barely bouncy consistency acquainted to followers of Chinese language fish balls, and it rapidly soaks up the sauce that surrounds the bass, salty and bitter and almost black with fermented beans.
Lard lurks in that fish paste. Lard runs by quite a lot of the meals, which is a good factor to have the ability to say a few Taiwanese restaurant in New York. Wenwen doesn’t whip out the pork fats for shock worth or to scare off the vegetarians. (Its use is famous matter-of-factly on the backside of the menu, together with a request to “please let us know if a substitute is needed.”) Mr. Sze appears to prepare dinner with it as a result of it belongs within the meals he’s serving a minimum of as a lot as five-spice powder and sesame oil. Good lard is much less a taste than a frame of mind.
Aside from the stuffed bass, the menu doesn’t specify which dishes include lard. A number of recipes are already so prodigal of their use of pork that just a little further fats can be laborious to note. The steamed rice in Wenwen’s lo ba beng is roofed with pickled mustard greens and pork stomach that was braised in candy soy and just a little peanut butter till the boundaries between meat and sauce have been erased.
Like many younger Asian American cooks who got here of age within the Momofuku period, Mr. Sze and Kathy Chen, who as head chef is in command of the kitchen from each day, search for methods to accentuate flavors when acceptable. I wouldn’t say they prepare dinner in all caps, however they know when to make use of boldface and italics for emphasis.
Wilted pea shoots and skinny handkerchiefs of tofu pores and skin have a crackling vitality that might not be totally defined by the garlic and Shaoxing wine they’re stir-fried with. Cucumber wedges marinated with pineapple juice and vinegar till they begin to go pale and comfortable — in the event that they have been served with a pastrami sandwich, you’d name them half-sours — are saturated with the untamed taste of uncooked garlic. Sichuan peppercorns, each floor and made into an oil, coat strands of vinegar-dressed celtuce till it feels as if electrons have been kickboxing in your tongue.
Someplace within the kitchen is a jar of what Mr. Sze calls Taiwan mud. A mix of salt, sugar, white pepper and MSG, Taiwan mud has the power to override acutely aware volition and make you attain for one more chew earlier than you’re doing it. It’s terrific sprinkled over little slabs of fried tofu and helps make Mr. Sze’s popcorn rooster, which he imported from 886 with minor modifications, one in all New York’s most compelling plates of fried rooster. (For those who arrive too late for a BDSM rooster, as you virtually actually will, it may be your comfort prize.)
These and different dishes can reset your palate such that quieter objects can register as missing one thing. I needed the sauce for Wenwen’s rendition of three-cup chicken to be extra concentrated, and wished the shot of vinegar in chilly sesame noodles had been stronger.
In case you are in search of an understated dessert, you will have come to the mistaken Taiwanese restaurant. Wenwen makes only one, and it’s lined with chopped cilantro. Many different issues are on the plate, too, together with fried sticky rice balls, a darkish pool black-sesame paste, peanut butter made right into a powder and scoops of vanilla ice cream.
They’re all very good collectively. However the cilantro is what made me need to end the entire thing, even when it took me longer than six seconds.