On the recommendation of a friend I was eating out in New York, but as soon as I closed the door on Spring Street I was transported to Bali – but by way of The Bowery with its cool downtown vibe. Wayan is the just-opened Indonesian restaurant with a “modern French flair” by Cédric Vongerichten (son of celebrated chef Jean-Georges) and his Jakarta-born wife Ochi. Together they have created an almost tropical oasis – handpainted glass globe lighting, leather banquettes and teak details against whitewashed brick walls, pulled together by the Rockwell Group’s Shawn Sullivan – that was packed by 6pm.
I was completely blown away by the setting; but it is the food that really shines, with its delicious, unusual (to me, at least) ingredients and flavours. All plates are meant to be shared, so we followed our server’s lead and started with a shrimp satay with spicy dabu-dabu sauce and fresh lime ($15), and the avocado gado-gado ($15) – a unique variation on the traditional Indonesian salad. The black seabass steamed in banana leaves with onions and pea shoots ($24) was my favourite dish of the night (though I skipped the incredibly hot chili-calamansi vinaigrette); the lobster noodle – a bowl of fresh chunks of lobster and Thai basil in buttered, sweet kecap manis sauce ($29) – was a close second.
The cocktails are similarly inventive, involving ingredients such as galangal (a type of ginger) and black sesame seeds, alongside Indonesia’s Batavia Arrack rum (and Bintang beer); my Kelapa ($14), a concoction of rye, rum, coconut milk and nutmeg, was perfect for pairing with dishes with a bit of heat.
Throughout the meal I was fascinated watching Vongerichten – who was trained by the likes of Alain Ducasse and Christian Willer at La Palme d’Or, and is still executive chef at celebrated West Village restaurant Perry Street – standing sentry by the kitchen and overseeing the presentation of every plate. Ochi, meanwhile, is the ultimate hostess, working the room and chatting with customers. Wayan means “firstborn” in Indonesian – a fitting name for the duo’s first solo outing that is both family affair and passion project.