This past Spring we drew attention to a tiny dumpling shop called BLND TGER that was squeezing into the frontage of what used to be the old Mamie Taylor’s space in Chinatown. The rest of the address’ voluminous square footage – tucked away behind what is intended to look like the little shop’s refrigerated storage door – is now revealed to be a speakeasy-ish operation called Laowai.
First time restaurateur Lewis Hart and his two managing partners in the enterprise, front of house veteran Brett Christopher and bartender Alex Black, opened Laowai (a Mandarin word for ‘foreigner’) to the public this week. I took a look inside a couple of days ago when they were entering overdrive, trying to get the early 1930’s Shanghai-inspired cocktail and dumpling bar – designed by London’s Bergman Interiors – ready for first contact that same night.
All one has to do to gain access to the hideaway is step inside BLND TGER – where there are six numbered dumpling options from chef Phong Vo (all delicious, by the way, especially the tongue-numbing, pork-filled Zhongs) – and ask for “the number 7”. There’s no secret handshake or real sense of gatekeeping to keep the seemingly uncool out. It’s just the axel upon which the whole concept turns, not too dissimilar from Manhattan’s Please Don’t Tell or London’s Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.
Take it as a gimmick or a thrill, it will be what it will be to guests through the quality of its theatre, its drinks, and its food. Having flipped through Black’s little green book of cocktails and read Phong’s menu of share plates – eyeing in particular the bourbon char siu pork belly and the sweet & sour fried lingcod – I look forward to trying it all.
Understanding that they were still several hours from welcoming their first guests (and thus still a mess), this is what I saw…