Need advice? Ask mom. Need a successful hook for a bar concept? Dedicate the space to moms!
Below are four “mom-marked” spots from New York City’s top restauranteurs and chefs—each sharing inspiration and gratitude towards their talented mothers, like a love letter (or more so, thank you note) through meaningful dishes and drinks.
Nai is an East Village intuition for innovative Spanish tapas and regional vinos stretching from Rias Baixas to Rioja. Its doors re-opened (in a new location) after ten set years with a refreshed menu – available à la carte or prix-fixe – via Galician-born restauranteur and chef Ruben Rodriguez (Nai Restaurant Group)
Rodriguez hones Nai’s bold flavors and presentation from his mother, Ana Maria Gonzalez Arias – Nai, meaning “mother” in Gallego. Small plates include Mushroom Carpaccio with truffle oil, marcona almonds and manchego cheese, and Rabo, oxtail with carrot ginger puree and veal demi-glace.
Dramatic, dark-colored walls outline the deep space with modern light fixtures and private pockets of banquette seating. The back bar, powered by beverage director Niko Hagerty, presents a list of wine and sherry-based cocktails, such as Central Park Carousel with yuzushu (yuzu citrus soaked in premium sake), Moroccan black olive-washed vermouth, raspberry, lime, ginger, and fizzy Cava.
“To my mother, [my] ‘nai,’ Ana María Gonzalez. Your love for cooking has become a passion in my life that I hope to share with the world and honor within myself,” Rodriguez reflects.
Wenwen is a “grown-up” retreat by restaurateur Andy Chuang and chef Eric Sze (886). Dedicated to Sze’s mother, Wen, the residential restaurant brings the comfort and flavors of a Taiwanese household to Greenpoint. Sze duplicates dishes that showed up on his mother’s kitchen table as a kid, like the Numbing Celtuce Salad with Sichuan peppers and lettuce cups – meant for scooping up shrimp floss and fried youtiao.
“This restaurant is based on homesickness,” according to Sze, who has not returned home to the Taipei area since signing the lease two years ago. Eighties disco is the theme to hark back on – even the bathrooms are dressed in disco balls and spinning lights.
While 886 reflects the rowdy Saint Marks Place crowd through sake and soju, Wenwen is the gift package to homesick Taiwanese folks (and fun-loving adults alike) looking to “chase bites of blood sausage with Gold Medal beer” – better yet the Shyboy XL, a Long Island Iced Tea served in a jumbo goblet with four straws and a flaming piece of youtiao atop. Bev-director Morgan Robison helms the heady bar program with Taiwan-ized twists incorporating ingredients, such as Sichuan peppercorns and bird’s eye chiles.
Native liquor licenses and night market toys deck the dining room walls; images of Wen wrap the dinner menu.
Patti Ann’s is a family-friendly restaurant and next-door bakery by chef-owner Greg Baxtrom (Olmsted, Maison Yaki) that combines nostalgic Midwestern meals of his childhood with techniques from his fine-dining days at Alinea and Per Se. The Prospect Heights locale pays homage to Baxtrom’s mother, Patti Ann, a retired elementary school teacher.
Designed to be shared (cough family-style), menu items include Chips and Goop: house-made potato chips and onion dip based on his mother’s recipe, and Cherry Ketchup Glazed Duck Meatloaf, because mama’s meatloaf. There are Peanut Butter Bars for dessert, too.
The bar features cocktails playfully named after grade school memories, beers from Midwestern breweries, new-to-market wines and non-alc pop. For example, Spirit Week with mezcal, plum, aperitivo, hibiscus syrup, and lime, and Parent Teacher Conference with blended Scotch, umeboshi (pickled ume fruits), and soda – served highball-style.
While beverage director Andrew Zerrip designed the drink menu, father Mike Baxtrom (who travels from Chicago to constructs all of his son’s New York restaurants) built the bright, 70-seat dining room, homey bar, and broad chef’s counter.
Bonnie’s is a Williamsburg spot contributing to the evolution of Cantonese food with rice bowls and pots (of Long Island Iced Tea) to share – no joke, it serves eight to ten and consists of every spirit.
Named after his mother, Bonnie, chef Calvin Eng embraces the culture he “once rejected” growing up as a Chinese American kid. “I was born and raised here in Brooklyn, New York and grew up trying to be as American as possible,” he admits in a note. With Bonnie’s, Eng is able to be part of the “new wave” of Chinese American cooks popularizing Cantonese food. “Everything I know about Cantonese food, I learned from her [Bonnie],” he adds.
A top dinner bowl is X.O. Cheung Fun: seared rolled rice noodles with dried scallop-shrimp, “X.O.” sauce, bean sprouts, and chives. The MSG Martini is mandatory – a choice of Grey Goose vodka or Botanist gin, olive brine, Shaoxing “yellow” wine, and MSG (or monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer often added to restaurant foods, soups, etc.).
“I can’t wait to share with you,” Eng concludes.