At the start of the pandemic, Sahlil Mehta, who, along with his wife Stacey Mehta, owns and operates Michelin-starred Malaysian restaurant Laut and its neighboring restaurant, the more street-oriented Laut Singapura, expressed concern.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen to our downtown spaces,” Mehta told Gothamist earlier this week. Located in the Gramercy / Union Square neighborhood, both places relied heavily on office workers to fill the dining rooms each evening. So, to sort of hedge their bets, the Mehtas sought to open a new business, but in a different, more residential neighborhood.
“We noticed that on the Upper West Side, people were actually staying in the city,” Mehta said. “They didn’t leave, and we saw that a lot of the restaurants here continued to function well, even with take out and deliveries. The locals actually supported the restaurants here much more than downtown. So we signed the lease here at the height of the pandemic, and Wau was born. “
The emphasis at Wau is on comfort food, and the menu is filled with rich and tasty dishes, both what Mehta calls ‘back to basics’ Malaysian dishes as well as rice and noodle dishes. which you might find at hawker stands all over the area. My partner and I feasted on half a dozen dishes the other night, and everything was delicious.
There’s a lot of good pan-Asian stuff among appetizers, including one of Wau’s many vegan options, a bunch of moderately breaded and heavily seasoned young coconut salt and pepper, the remarkably tender fruit doing a good job. to replace the usual seafood. The crispy lotus root is indeed extremely crisp and dipped in a bright orange sauce that Mehta compares to a Thai tom yum. Both make excellent table sharings.
Even better were the Savory Donuts, with their dense mix of chicken and chopped shrimp, a crackling oatmeal crust, and plenty of tangy heat inside. Other enticing options include Larb vegan fries, Honey Chili Sambal chicken wings, chili oil wontons, and murtabek, described as a Malaysian-Indian dish involving a pancake stuffed with chicken and eggs.
You’ll definitely want to spend some time in the Hawker Noodle section of Wau. My favorite dish of the night was probably the Singaporean Char Kway Teow, a bowl of wide, flat rice noodles sprinkled with seafood and sticky with a black soy sauce. You can also get this dish with chicken or tofu, but either way, it’s a supreme comfort food. Pad See Ew, Singapore Laska, Bangkok-style Pad Thai, and Mamak Mee Goreng, an Indian Muslim egg noodle concoction, are also available to make you feel full and happy.
Some of the so called legendary rice dishes include the Nasi Meak, Pineapple Fried Rice and, our order, a mound of wonderful Nasi Goreng, which is spicy fried rice with things like ground shrimp paste, a Sweet soy sauce called kicap mantis, tamarind, garlic and chili. We had ours with chicken and, to add to the fun, it arrived with a runny egg on top.
A mishmash of appetizer-like items can be found under Signature Dishes, such as Singapore Black Pepper Shrimp, Farmers Sautéed in Krapow Basil, and Rendang Beef, which featured pieces of tender meat in it. a thick red curry. There are also several soups, salads and sides on the menu, and three desserts, which we were all too drunk to try, although next time I get this Balinese black rice pudding.
There are semi-outdoor seats jutting out onto the sidewalk, and inside you’ll find some lavish banquettes, a few two-tops, and a large wooden bar that you can sit down to for all manner of alcoholic delicacies, including eight “signature” cocktails. My partner did a quick job of her drizzled juicy fruit, which is flavored with jackfruit – she called it “like candy and Aperol, in a good way”.
As for the name, Wau comes from the wau bulan lunar kites that sway in the breeze above the outdoor tables. Specifically, as Mehta says, “They fly to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, and that’s where the inspiration for the food here comes from. The idea of this space is to cheer you up and get you high with our spirits. Plus, I just want you to come in and say “wow”.
Wau is located at 434 Amsterdam Avenue, at the corner of 81st Street, and is currently open for lunch, brunch and dinner, Monday through Friday from noon to 3:30 p.m., then again from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturday from 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9:30 p.m. (917-261-5926; waunyc.com)