Tue-Fri, 6pm-midnight; Sat, noon-4pm and 6pm-midnight; Sun, noon-4pm; Mon, closed
F at East Broadway; B, D at Grand St.
American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
You won’t find the usual ritualistic talismans of the Chinatown dining experience at Fung Tu, which opened a couple of months ago among the jumble of rapidly gentrifying storefronts on the southern end of Orchard Street. There are no murky aquarium tanks at the front of the house filled with near-dead lobsters or stunned-looking fish. Instead of, say, pictures of dragons or mist-shrouded mountains on the walls, there’s a long wine rack stocked with a sparkling wine from Alsace, delicate Pinots from Oregon and Burgundy, and the occasional $120 bottle of Champagne. The chopsticks are elegantly tapered objects made of silvery metal, and if you call for the extravagantly priced house egg roll ($13), you’ll discover that it’s stuffed with two kinds of Mediterranean olives, among other non-Chinatown ingredients, and served with a bowl of citrus-tinged mayonnaise for dipping.
The egg roll is the work of a young chef named Jonathan Wu, who did time at Per Se before joining forces with Wilson Tang (Nom Wah Tea Parlor) to open this willfully sophisticated restaurant. It was served to us, along with a welter of other small-plate items, by a chatty member of the staff, who wore a silk handkerchief stuffed in his jacket pocket and recommended something called an Oolong Spritz, made with club soda, Prosecco, and Aperol infused with oolong tea. While we sipped our drinks, we tasted finger bowls filled with smoked mussels and scallion oil; wok-fried peanuts folded with dill and excellent nuggets of beef jerky; and an ingenious creation, smoked fried dates stuffed with duck, which tasted like a subtle fusion version of that bacon-wrapped Western specialty Devils on Horseback.
As with many well-trained cooks who dabble with high-low comfort-food combinations, Wu is an obsessive tinkerer, and some of his recipes are clearly still in the experimental stage. I enjoyed the lightly frizzled crêpe skin of the egg roll, and the pork-belly-and-olive filling (as my egg-roll scholar colleagues at the Underground Gourmet have reported, the pork is cooked in a combi oven and rubbed with coriander and cumin), but the extra dollop of mayonnaise is enough to give even the most grizzled fresser premonitions of a heart attack. At this stage in its development, the smoked-chicken salad with masa-scallion pancake lacks smoke, and the pancake could use a dose of oily Chinatown goodness. Our order of fluffy Parker House steamed buns (with a filling of butternut squash and shiitake) were technically perfect, however, and so was the excellent Jian Bing crêpe, which is crisp and tubular, like an Indian dosa, and stuffed with ropy deposits of braised beef.
The most successful large-plate items tend to be variations on old neighborhood specialties (fried pork chops, steamed fish, a nice squid stir-fry tossed over Japanese rice), and, frankly, I could have used more of them on the menu. The pork chops are thin and fatty and garnished with a pleasing sweet-sour combination of sherry glaze and pickled mustard cabbage. The steamed fish was black bass, on the night I enjoyed it, dressed with a delicate mix of orange peel, scallion, and fennel. The best dessert, by far, is a gourmet rendition of tofu pudding. It’s pooled on its silky top with melted brown sugar and comes with a Per Se-level tuile made with crushed pistachios. Like the best cooking at this promising, slightly uneven establishment, it will make you want to return in a month or two, to see what these talented young chefs are up to.Recommended Dishes
Smoked and fried dates stuffed with duck, $7; naked soybean-curd dumplings with celery-mushroom broth, $13; sunchokes with shrimp paste, $5.