Sunday afternoon is hot as hell, but it's cool in the shaded, AC'd corner of Forgetmenot on the Lower East Side. It's an artfully disheveled joint whose facade of effortlessness is blown by an indecisive DJ who keeps changing the track mid-song. Rolling Stones, Satisfaction? Too obvious. Joy Division? Wrong vibe. Jonathan Wu pays no mind, drinking a pilsner and telling his story as though it's bursting to come out. From high school (loved ceramics, sports, manual labor) and a University of Chicago English degree (the man's well-spoken) to the near-incomprehensible exactitude of the Per Se kitchen, the beauty of Venetian tartufe di mare (deeply cupped clams, eaten raw, that taste of truffles), and the genius of Anson Mills' Glenn Roberts.
Wu has been around; his story takes place in Blue Hill, Anissa, Le Bernardin, Per Se, Brest, Venice. He's found home, finally, at Fung Tu, the restaurant he opened on Orchard Street just last year. It's a place filled with stories: about the wallpaper (inspired by toon leaves, which his grandmother would pluck from her backyard tree and stir into eggs), the light fixtures (designed by his wife), the mishmash of inspirations behind each and every dish.
At Fung Tu, ribbons of celtuce (the lovechild of celery and lettuce) are paired with popcorn broth because the vegetable smelled like corn as Wu was peeling it. They're topped with a soft-cooked, Chinese-style black egg as a nod to Taiwanese eggs with bitter melon. And they are staggeringly delicious. Ditto for petite nuggets of fried sweetbreads lacquered with a sophisticate's General Tso's, and shrimp dip like a seafaring, China-bound Bolognese.
It's Chinese, but not just. It's Wu. He says: "My grandfather came in and was like 'Hey: I want mapo tofu.' I was like: 'Don’t worry, we’ve got something like that...kind of..."
Makes 1 cup of dressing
1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon whole-grain mustard
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemons)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients and--this is key--let them sit, room temp, for at least half an hour. Maybe more. Let these guys marry. Then spoon over everything (especially grilled vegetables, sliced tomatoes, boiled new potatoes and piles of lettuces). It's wonderful on a Niçoise salad--so wonderful, in fact, that your guests might not notice that the cook drank too much rosé and forgot to add the Niçoise [olives] to the damn salade...