photo credit: Emily Schindler
Sometimes you’re really in the mood for comfort food that you’d normally eat on your couch. But you actually want to be anywhere but your apartment because your roommate just started dating somebody, and they’re being disgustingly happy. Head to Wenwen at times like these. The homestyle Taiwanese food coming out of the kitchen makes you feel like you should be firmly planted in front of your TV, but you’re actually sitting in a fun and playful restaurant in Greenpoint.
Wenwen is sister restaurant to 886 but unlike that East Village spot, there’s real furniture here, and it won't seem like most of the diners are NYU students who have keg stands in their immediate future. This Taiwanese restaurant still feels fun though, especially when you see four people simultaneously sipping from cartoonishly large, flaming youtiao-topped cocktails and find the disco ball hanging in the dark bathroom. You might come to Wenwen with plans to go elsewhere after, only to discover you’re having such a good time that this place becomes your whole night out.
Nothing on the menu feels precious—instead, the mostly-hearty dishes are the best versions of comfort foods that typically come straight out of a home kitchen in Taipei. You’ll see some things that are also served at 886 like the lo ba beng with its thick, minced pork gravy over rice and cold noodles with spicy sesame peanut sauce. But there are plenty of new items, such as the warming 886 noodles covered in fried garlic and the cuttlefish with pork belly which has layers of fat that disintegrate on your tongue like little chunks of butter.
The best savory item on the menu is the BDSM chicken, which, on its face, sounds unsanitary, but in this case, the acronym stands for “brined deboned soy milk.” Just be aware that the kitchen only makes five of these juicy, subtly sweet and spicy whole fried chickens a night, and they usually sell out in less than half an hour.
Chances are generally slim that you’ll get to try the BDSM chicken, but when you inevitably have to keep escaping the annoying giddiness emanating from the newly-formed couple living with you, you might as well come to Wenwen and camp out for that hard-to-get dish. It’s worth it. After you and your friends go through a bunch of cocktails while listening to old-school Asian pop songs, you’ll hardly notice that several hours have passed. So order another round and try to figure out if anyone at your table wants to get a new apartment with you.
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Fried Tangyuan with Ice Cream
If you take only one thing away from this review, it’s that you should order this dessert. It's the best thing at Wenwen, and having it is an essential experience—like living in NYC and leaving your phone in a car because you were too drunk. So much is going on in this bowl: fried tangyuan with tempura-like batter, peanut butter powder, condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, black sesame sauce, and—surprisingly—garlic chives and cilantro. If we could nominate this creation for awards, it wouldn’t just win an Oscar. It would win an EGOT.
Whole BDSM Fried Chicken
For this dish, a whole young, yellow fat chicken from Flushing Live Poultry is marinated for two days in red fermented tofu, soy milk, and other seasonings like curry and onion powders. Then, the chicken is mostly deboned and dipped in a batter made with sweet potato starch, more tofu, and soy milk. You’ll hear an audible crack as you bite into each juicy and tender piece. This platter feeds three to four, so skip lunch, get here with a few friends before Wenwen even unlocks their door, and walk out with a greater sense of accomplishment than you’d get on most days.
Crispy Fried Tofu with Garlic Soy Paste
You probably won’t leave thinking about this dish, but it’s a pretty good starter as long as you eat the crispy, silken tofu while it’s still hot. A vinegary pickled cabbage slaw and a tongue-numbing, thick garlic soy paste with lots of raw garlic chunks come on the side.
Pea Shoots with Tofu Skin
Pea shoots with eggy tofu skins are sautéed with tons of garlic and Shaoxing wine, which results in a nutty and slightly sweet flavor. It’s the best vegetable dish here, and we always eat this with a side of Koshihikari rice.
Shrimp Floss Lettuce Cup
If it weren't for lighter dishes like this on the menu, you might run the risk of falling asleep at your table due to the onslaught of the mostly-heavy plates here. We love the contrast between the warm and sweet minced shrimp and the cold, crisp romaine lettuce cups.
Think of this dish as Taiwanese beef noodle soup, but without the soup. It comes with both beef shank and ground pork (as well as chickpeas for some reason), and it’s got some noticeable heat. When you mix all the ingredients together, everything gets coated in a thick, bean sauce-like paste. We like this dish any time of year, but it tastes best when it’s 18 degrees outside.
Pork Belly & Cuttlefish
Here, you get tender pieces of braised pork belly, whole shallots, and big chunks of bouncy cuttlefish in a syrupy, almost sticky soy-based sauce. This dish is a highlight from the large-format “Share” part of the menu, and it would feel right at home on a Thanksgiving table.