The hot dog joint is synonymous with Coney Isla...
The hot dog joint is synonymous with Coney Island. Established in 1916 as a hot dog stand, this Nathan’s is the original that started the beloved chain. The all-beef hot dog, curly fries, the Coney Island corn dog and cheese dogs are the staple food of the ConeyIsland boardwalk area.
These days, New York’s Chinese food scene is in full-blown revival mode, fueled by red-hot joints like RedFarm and Mission Chinese Food, edging out dated fixations on cheap and “authentic” with promises of locavore and cool.
The latest restaurant to take a 21st-century crack at Chinese is Fung Tu, from Nom Wah Tea Parlor scion Wilson Tang and Per Se vet Jonathan Wu. In their slender, wood-rich room, cultural references are subtler than the typical red-lantern kitsch; spindly Pyrex light fixtures—made by Wu’s artist wife—were inspired by Chinese lattice patterns. They cast a gentle glow on tight-sweatered scenesters and beach-wood booths as stiff as church pews.
Rather than intensifying flavors, Wu’s cerebral plates subdue them. Ribbons of celtuce ($13) are vexingly tasteless, even slicked with buttery popcorn puree and the salty ooze of a soft-boiled, soy-soaked egg. A beige slab of broad-bean curd terrine ($13) is doused with chili oil, but conjures up little more than solid, grainy hummus.
More disappointing than these creative offerings are reinterpreted classics sapped of their trademark allure. Buttery steamed buns ($12) cocoon a mushy, salt-starved mix of vegetables and glass noodles; a bowl of gummy, spaetzle-esque knots of dough topped with heat-deficient chili-pork sauce ($19) are meant to reference mapo tofu, but recall overcooked Hamburger Helper.
Wu’s best dishes summon more assertive flavors. Steamed whole sea bream ($28) is salt-licked by pungent fermented black beans, its silky flesh teetering between briny and sweet. Springy sweet-potato rice cakes ($23) are pure comfort, their meaty chew bolstered by mushrooms, Chinese sausage and crinkly kale.
Those rice cakes give you what you’ve been missing all along, the earthy, wok-fired jolt that makes much of Chinese cooking so seductive. In pursuit of toned-down flavors, Fung Tu too often renders its cooking mute.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal highlights: Duck-stuffed dates, sweet-potato rice cakes, whole steamed fish
Behind the bar: Wines are inspired by the nutty, fruity flavors of Asian rice wine; as promised by Chicago sommelier Jason Wagner, a watermelon-accented pineau d’anuis mollifies any chili heat.
Vibe: If you’re craving family-style dishes whirling on a lazy Susan, walk west to Chinatown; these delicate small plates were conceived for contemplation, not throwdown feasts.
Cocktail chatter: The oxblood-colored wallpaper panels depict toon leaves, a garlicky spring delicacy that Wu’s grandpa grows in his yard in Yonkers.
Soundcheck: There may be steamed buns on every table, but this is a far cry from the fever pitch of weekend dim sum.
By Daniel S. Meyer
Restaurateur Chris Cannon was once the Dr. Dre of New York Italian dining, producing smash successes with chefs Scott Conant (L’Impero, Alto) and Michael White (Convivio, Marea). Now, three years after a very public split with White, Cannon is back in the spotlight.
His much-anticipated return, All’onda, isn’t pure Italian, but a modern hybrid, tinting the food of Venice with the flavors of Japan. The mash-up comes courtesy of chef Chris Jaeckle, who earned his Italian stripes at Ai Fiori, after sharpening his Japanese skills at Morimoto. Delicate border-crossing cuisine unfolds inside a duplex, sleek in cool shades of gray and polished wood.
All’onda shows occasional bursts of brilliance. Jaeckle’s Italian cooking leans to the East with a lyrical hamachi crudo ($17) tickled by olive oil and soy, or creamy fried sweetbreads ($18) spun smoky by fluttering bonito flakes. But the nouveau fusion falters with ricotta tortellini ($17) bobbing like wontons in undersalted kombu-Parmesan broth, a discordant mingling of dairy and dashi.
Those tortellini are a rare misstep in a lineup of solid midcourse pastas, the best of which boast rich sauces levitated by acid. Lemon brightens toothsome bucatini ($19), decadently slicked in smoked-uni cream sauce; vinegar rouses snail-shaped lumache ($19), with a gamey ragù bearing five-day-aged duck and the trace bitterness of chocolate.
Compared with the stunner pastas that precede them, All’onda’s mains mostly fizzle. Two fillets of skate ($25) cemented together with meat glue and lacquered with veal glaze masquerade as meat, but there’s no disguising their irredeemably chewy flesh. Guinea hen ($28) smeared with kombu butter shows off a leg as tender as duck confit; a shame its scrawny breast is desert dry.
Kitchen stumbles like tough proteins are surprisingly glaring errors for a chef who’s cooking in his comfort zone. Where Cannon’s projects have usually gone full speed out of the gate, All’onda is still struggling to hit full stride; looks like the path back to restaurant stardom is proving a steep hill to climb.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal highlights: Hamachi, sweetbreads, bucatini, lumache, monkfish, olive oil cake
Behind the bar: The Italian list is stacked with sparkling wines well beyond prosecco, but the inspired pairing for Jaeckle’s Japanese-tinged food is Il Carica L’Asino, a spicy white reminiscent of sake.
Vibe: In an awkward limbo between rustic and refined, All’onda is better suited to a business dinner than a romantic date.
Cocktail chatter: Nautical nods to Venice are everywhere; there’s a giant abstract photo of the city’s canal, boatlike cushion ties on the banquettes and sliding doors with porthole windows.
Soundcheck: True to All’onda’s name (which means “of the waves”), noise laps gently over the room.
By Daniel S. Meyer