When New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells recently reviewed Wenwen, Greenpoint’s new homestyle Taiwanese restaurant from Eric Sze and Andy Chuang of 886, there was one elusive menu on the item Wells could never order: the whole BDSM fried chicken.
And often times, getting a table at Wenwen can be just as challenging. Wondering how you can get in? In this edition of The One Who Keeps the Book, we spoke with co-owner Chuang, who gives us the lowdown on how to snag a table — and how to order that highly coveted chicken.
Resy: How many seats are there at Wenwen?
Chuang: There are 52 seats.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
When we first opened, we did it monthly, but we decided to move away from that. Now you can see two weeks out for reservations. People don’t have to be camped out waiting for reservations. They can plan a little less into the future, which I think is great.
How quickly do seats get booked out?
We’re still relatively new and it still goes pretty fast.
Do you think there’s been more interest in Wenwen since the New York Times review was published?
People are talking about it, so I think there will be.
When are your busiest nights?
Friday is definitely busier than Saturday. We used to be open Wednesday to Sunday and recently launched dinner on Tuesday night. We’re hoping to expand to more days. Our hope is whoever wants to try our restaurant will always be welcome.
How long is your Notify list on average?
Depending on the day, it could be anywhere from 50 to 300.
If someone were to set a Notify for Wenwen on Resy, is there a certain day or time they’d be most likely to get a reservation?
On weekdays! We usually have fewer reservations on those days, so we have more flexibility on seating people.
Your Cheat Sheet for Getting Into Wenwen
Plan Ahead: Resys drop two weeks in advance.
Walk On In: There are a few seats reserved for walk-ins, and you can always grab a seat at the bar and enjoy the full food and drink menu, too. Just know that walking in on a Friday or Saturday can be a bit of a challenge.
The Layout: There are 52 seats in total, 8 at the bar, 28 in the main dining room, and 16 in The Alley.
Pro Tip: If you’re desperate to try the elusive BDSM chicken, try stopping by for weekend brunch where it’s served in sandwich form — and not in such limited quantities.
Prime Time: 7 to 8 p.m. each night.
Must-Orders: Food: Popcorn chicken, lo ba beng, pork belly and cuttlefish, and shrimp floss. Cocktails: Shyboy, The Boiling Point, and The Mango Michelada.
Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins?
We save a certain amount of tables for walk-ins. If you’re in the area and it’s convenient, just come in and we’ll more than likely have a spot. If you don’t mind not having a table, we do have bar seats. Everything is available at the bar, all of the food menu, all of the drinks.
What time would you recommend stopping by to snag one of the walk-in seats?
Of course, not Friday or Saturday, which are our busier days; that might be a more difficult gambit. We’ve had people walk in at the beginning when we open at 5 p.m. and usually we’re able to accommodate. If you want to walk in at a later time, I’d say 9 to 9:30 p.m. might be the easiest.
During peak time, what is the typical wait time for a walk-in?
It depends on the day of the week. On Fridays and Saturdays, it’s longer. We try to accommodate the best we can.
Can guests have a cocktail while they wait for their table?
We have a bar standing area where people can enjoy drinks as they wait. That was something we thought about when we were opening the restaurant. This is a space where people can hang out.
When is it the least and most busy?
Currently, the least busy times are the brunch hours and Tuesday dinner. Busy time at the restaurant is always 7 to 8 p.m.
How many covers do you do on your busiest night?
Our busiest nights are about 190 covers.
Are there any other tips or tricks you have for getting a table?
We spread out our reservations in an hour-and-a-half intervals. There’s 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. That way we give our diners ample time to eat and enjoy their meal. We don’t try to pack in too many people a day. If people are trying to walk in, any pocket in between those major reservation sections is probably a better time. And if you come in around 9 p.m., that’s when people start to taper off.
Of all the places to sit in the restaurant, what do you think is the best seat in the house?
I really like the Alley. It’s a little bit quieter compared to the main dining room, depending on who you go with. I’ve had friends who’ve gone there and their voices are a bit … elevated. But other than those specific instances, I prefer it. It’s a little cooler there, more intimate.
For those who haven’t visited yet, can you describe the Alley?
We based the back room on Taiwan’s back alleys. There’s brick to mimic the houses in Taiwan and tinted windows that are quite not see-through, but you can still see light come out of it. The walls are made of tile, also very nostalgic for me, because that’s the kind of tile you’d find in Taiwan. We’ve got plants hanging everywhere. We’ve got three windows on top where you can see the sun during the daytime and at night, it’s the night sky.
Can people request specific tables?
We’re very diligent with our email, so if you email us with a specific amount of people, we’ll see if we can accommodate.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene for us?
We have a pretty spacious place. The ceilings are high. When there are a lot of people, you’d think with so much space that it wouldn’t be super loud, but with the music, and the people talking, I actually get lost in the sounds there. After the sun sets, we dim the lights so it’s a bit darker, but the lights at the bar are brighter. It’s pretty lively. My only other frame of reference is 886 and 886 is rowdy. People are doing sake bombs. It’s a different kind of lively here. This is more of a let’s sip this drink and not chug this drink kind of lively.
That makes sense given how Eric has described Wenwen as “the dinner party you learn to love in your 30s.”
If you want to get kind of rowdy, we’re not opposed to it. Just don’t chug the Shyboy 4XL.
What kind of music is played inside the restaurant?
In the bathroom, we do retro Chinese and Cantonese music. We have a whole sound system for the bathroom. Very extra, I know. In the dining room, we try to play the music that we listened to growing up. Eric likes to say he was always an outcast for listening to Mandarin music when he was going to an American school and this is his way of expressing that Mandarin music is cool, too. The most common thing I’ve gotten from diners is, “Hey, this is the music our parents used to like.” Then I’ll be like, “Hell, yeah!”
The Whole BDSM Fried Chicken is one of Wenwen’s most talked-about dishes, but only five are available a night. Even Pete Wells didn’t get a chance to try it. Any insider intel for Resy readers?
We started brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3:30 p.m. and we make a chicken sandwich version using the same batter as our BDSM chicken on the weekends. The chicken sandwich is not limited in quantity. We serve a partial dinner menu and new brunch items, so if people want to try to come in during brunch, that has seemed to be less busy than dinner time.
For someone going to Wenwen for the first time, what should they order?
If you miss out on the chicken, we also have popcorn chicken. It’s made with shacha honey. Shacha is a Taiwanese sauce that originated in Malaysia. Not too spicy, kind of sweet. For carbs, we offer lu rou fan, pork belly on rice. It’s a classic Taiwanese dish. We have it on the menu as lo ba beng. We serve it both at 886 and Wenwen and it’s nostalgic for me.
If you want to dive into Eric’s childhood, the thing his mom used to cook for him and nobody does it that way, is the pork belly and cuttlefish. It’s big braised pieces of pork belly, big pieces of cuttlefish. It’s very rich. Grab a bowl of rice with that. But don’t order the lo ba beng and pork belly together because their flavor profiles are similar. We have certain dishes that are lighter, and certain dishes that are heavier and heartier.
Do you have a personal favorite dish or drink?
I always tell people my favorite item is the shrimp floss. It’s diced shrimp stir fried with jicama, garlic, and chiles, and we give you lettuce cups to wrap it in.
How about cocktails? You’ve already mentioned the Shyboy.
As much as I joke about the Shyboy, our interpretation of a Long Island iced tea, our beverage director Morgan [Robison] did a great job making that drink better. I really appreciate that it tastes good, however low a bar the Long Island iced tea has set.
If people don’t want to go booze-on-booze, The Boiling Point is very popular. It’s a cocktail with lychee in it so it has a sweetness and freshness to it. A more recent one we launched along with our brunch menu is what we call The Mango Michelada. We use mango beer along with fish sauce so it there’s a savory note to it and sweet note to it. With any of the specialty cocktails on the menu, I would argue you wouldn’t go wrong. It’s also a full bar so if you have a preferred cocktail, we can always make it for you.
Have you had a lot of 886 diners come to Wenwen? What are their thoughts?
It’s almost like a culture shock for them. These two restaurants are on some levels very different. They appreciate the food. The food at Wenwen is more shareable as opposed to the tapas style at 886. And the backrests — they appreciate those, because 886 only has stools.
Wenwen is open Tuesday to Friday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m.