Mario Batali and our Key 3 project brought me back to New York recently (but the bonus was catching up on the restaurant scene). Mario had invited me on to his new show, The Chew. No one hosts like Batali. He rolls out the carpet and hands you over to the audience; he is generosity personified.
As for the Key 3, we're going into the kitchens of the most interesting cooks we know and asking them to pick the three dishes each one thinks is utterly essential. On this trip we got to Lidia Bastianich, Sally Schneider, Isaac Mizrahi and Daniel Boulud.
But more about them in the future. Today, it's New York eats with a tale of duck tongue meatballs.
The New York Times' new restaurant critic, Pete Wells, did his maiden review on an Asian-Locavore place in the Village called Wong (for the Malaysian-born Chinese chef, Simpson Wong). Being pushovers for promising Asian anything, my pal Cara and I went for dinner.
Wells raved over the sauteed scallops. Really, the scallops were an aside; he swooned over their garnish of duck tongue meatballs, wishing he could get bags of them as takeout. So it was the first thing we ordered.
Before going on, I've got to set the scene. Wong is small, with mostly communal tables. Everybody had read the review, was ordering more or less the same dishes and talking to each other, comparing notes.
The scallops arrived overdone. But the meatballs were still there and we had hope. Two very small balls waited on the plate -- very small, fried and sandy-on-the-outside balls. We bit. They tasted of nothing -- $15 worth of nothing. We'd fallen for a duck tongue meatball.
At that point, I didn't envy Pete Wells. A critic's life is not easy; one night's glory is another's ho-hum.
Word passed. Orders were changed. But he nailed it on so much more and so did our tablemates.
Here's what you have to try if you get to Wong: the lacy shrimp fritters with noodles and Asian pear; the steamed buns stuffed with pulled spiced duck (their tops crisped with a gloss of honey and salt); the Hakka pork belly with taro tater tots and calamansi fruit; and a skillet of thick rice noodles with pork, sea cucumber and creamy fried egg that channels Italian ragu with priest stranglers pasta.
Wong is a winner. Prices run from medium to medium-high for New York City. Just forget the duck tongue meatballs.
Also: You will hear a lot about the duck fat ice cream. The world will not end if you skip it.
7 Cornelia Street
New York, New York 10014
Reservations are a good idea.