It took Eric Sze a year and a half to bring Wenwen-the follow-up to his wildly popular Taiwanese restaurant, 886-to life. Named after his mom, Wenchi, and wife, Wenhui, the Greenpoint restaurant is bigger than its East Village sibling in many ways: the space is physically larger at 60 seats, the food continues to build upon Sze’s bold Taiwanese cooking, and there’s now a full cocktail program, too.
Wenwen represents a growing up of sorts for Sze and his partner, Andy Chuang. “If 886 is the rager-party dining experience you love in your twenties, then Wenwen is the dinner party you find yourself enjoying in your thirties,” says Sze. (If that dinner party also featured Taiwanese comfort food and a riff on Long Island iced tea sized for four called The Shyboy 4XL.)
There are nods to 886 on the menu-you’ll still find Lo Ba Beng and Fly’s Head here-but the stars are Sze’s new large-format plates, including the Pork Belly & Cuttlefish inspired by a recipe from his mom. He’s tweaked the surf-and-turf dish to also pay homage to his paternal side’s Shanghainese roots by using three types of sugar and creating a glaze that’s reminiscent of hongshaorou (red-cooked pork), a sticky-sweet braised pork belly with origins in Shanghai.
Other shareable homestyle plates include the Whole BDSM Fried Chicken, a limited five-a-night only fried chicken marinated in fermented soybean, a numbing celtuce salad laced with Sichuan pepper, and fried black sesame tangyuan topped with dehydrated peanut butter and cilantro. The cocktail menu was created by beverage director Morgan Robison (886, Mace) and features classic drinks with a twist, such as the Bird’s Eye Daiquiri infused with its namesake chili; and Sze’s personal favorite, the Kavalan Old Fashioned sweetened with Taiwanese black sugar.
“The more complex and thicker syrup means it’s an old fashioned with a thicker texture and a much more subtle sweetness,” says Sze. “The Sichuan tincture provides a provocative numbness and it’s made with the Taiwanese whiskey, Kavalan, so the cultural aspect is huge for me as well.”
The Wenwen space formerly housed Greenpoint watering hole, The Royal, and though the wooden bar itself remains the same, the rest of the restaurant now channels Taiwan-by-way-of-industrial-Brooklyn thanks to interior design by Studio Wooster. The backroom-dubbed “The Alley”-was modeled after the back streets and corners of Taipei, while floral patterned glass on the back bar is, as Sze explains, “synonymous with grandmas in Taiwan.”
Sze also brought in Asian American creatives to round out his design vision: Ji Hae Byun of LIVIN handled plant installation, designer JJ Lin created custom signage, and Mei Li of Overice worked on the logo and other graphics.
“I realized that we hired almost exclusively Asian American women for the creative design work, but I didn’t even really seek it out. I believe in hiring the right people for the right job and it turns out Asian Americans are really good at building an Asian-American restaurant. There’s no cultural barrier to leap through,” says Sze, who also tapped former Win Son extern Kathy Chen to be Wenwen’s head chef. “I guess it makes sense since the restaurant is named after two of the most important women in my life.”
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.