All photos by Paul Wagtouicz
Brunch has really taken it on the chin lately, with a number of food writers calling into question the appeal of the mid-morning meal — so often associated with overcooked eggs, overpriced pancakes, and overly long lines. Because honestly, who wants to wake up early on a Sunday in order to wait two hours for waffles when you can simply curl up in bed with a bowl of oatmeal or toast?
But contemporary restaurants like the year-old Fung Tu are working hard to counteract those negative connotations by staying blessedly true to their own culinary identities (aren’t you tired of seeing Eggs Benedict at Italian eateries, or French Toast at Middle Eastern cafes?), thus making the thought of setting an alarm clock for brunch a whole lot less painful.
The smartly conceived “Bing Bing” cocktail is well worth a weekend pilgrimage to Chinatown; a tall, frothy concoction made with cold-brewed iced coffee, Luxardo maraschino-infused absinthe and coffee liqueur, it instantly assuaged our two-fold need for caffeine and alcohol. Sticking with the creative pan-Asian theme, beverage director Jason Wagner (an alum of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon) also offers a refreshing, vegetal drink dubbed “Apium Den,” a muddle of gin, fresh-pressed celery juice, Sichuan peppercorn syrup and lemon. Lest I forget the “Shanghai 75,” a French 75 variant, a blend of cognac, tarragon simple syrup and prosecco, and a requisite Bloody Mary, dark with soy sauce, spicy with sriracha, rimmed with the Sichuan numbing spice, Mala, and garnished with a crunchy leaf of bok choy.
And then there’s the food, ably executed by the young but highly accomplished team of Jonathan Wu (Per Se) and his chef de cuisine, John M. Wells (Mas). Two tasty starters are carry-overs from the dinner menu; sugary Medjool Dates, stuffed not with the expected almonds or cheese, but wads of shredded duck, and a take on the “Original” Egg Roll from local dim sum legend, Nom Wah Tea Parlor (also owned by partner Wilson Tang) — a thin, fried crepe encircling pork belly, olives, fiery bird chilies and melted leeks.
You’re much more likely to find Congee — a savory Breakfast Porridge — than bacon and eggs at Chinatown’s cluster of cramped eateries, so it’s only appropriate that Fung Tu offers their own, elevated rendition, made with Koshihikari rice, soy-anise egg, shredded beef and house-pickled ramps and mustard greens. But their culinary inspirations extend far beyond Orchard Street — the Sichuan province meets Mexico in their quirky “China-quiles” – a plate of steamed eggs and crispy yucca chips smothered in spicy ground pork sauce, as well as the Masa Scallion Pancake, a crumbly corn disc cut into wedges and topped with a smoked chicken and cilantro salad. Even the American South gets the Asian treatment with the Fried Chicken and Steamed Bun (an ode to Wells’ Georgia roots), which pairs crunchy chicken thighs with a puffy, collard green-filled bun, drizzled with lap cheong Chinese sausage gravy.
So say what you will about restaurants peddling uninspired, dearly priced eggs during brunch, but we’re more than willing to rise and shine for the unusual, early morning eats at Chinatown’s Fung Tu.