Fueled by a DIY spirit, Kevin Wong opens Cantonese-inspired Far East Descendant in Chinatown
The restaurant, on two levels, has plenty of highly polished wood and candles, a roof deck with city views, and an inventive menu of Cantonese-inspired bites and drinks.
At least five years ago, Kevin Wong took over a building that his family owned on the northern edge of Chinatown. As the son of New Jersey restaurateurs with a background in contracting and concept design and development, he decided to create his own bar-restaurant.
Initially, he had partners on the project, which was to have an Asian fusion menu. When that deal fell through, Wong took over, opting not only to design and build out the restaurant himself but create his own modern riffs on Cantonese cuisine.
His DIY approach and the pandemic stalled his dream but earlier this month, Wong finally opened Far East Descendant. Its sexy, candlelit first-floor bar and dining room lead up to a stylish second-floor bar and roof deck at 251 N. Clarion St., overlooking Vine Street and beyond. The building’s front door is 240 N. 13th St., but FED’s dramatically lit entrance faces the rear alley.
A colorful wall mural of dragons and other Chinese images brightens the look on the Vine Street side.
Wong set up FED’s first-floor bar with a highly polished wooden bar in a vaguely industrial feel, given the high ceiling and exposed ductwork. Upstairs, the bar is under cover for an all-weather experience, but through the now-open doors, there’s Instagrammable outdoor roof seating beneath strings of light.
FED is in soft-opening mode, so the menu is smaller. Wong said his dishes only vaguely resemble their more familiar-to-American audience guises. For example: the dish called shrimping toast is not the ground, seasoned shrimp on pan-fried white bread that you’d find at any number of restaurants. He makes his own mantou buns (on the menu, spelled “montao”) and fills them as cup with a mixture of shrimp, shallots, and water chestnuts.
Right now, he’s running a soft-shell crab prepared Typhoon Shelter-style — that is, dusted in potato starch and tossed with fried ginger, green onion, garlic, and fermented black bean. Chicken skewers come in a rich, house-made XO sauce made of dried fermented shrimp, scallop, anchovy, and Facing Heaven pepper. Fries, served by themselves as well as sides with the sandwiches on housemade buns, are made of hand-cut taro and are served with a five-spice dipping sauce. (There’s also a vegan sandwich, with lotus root, shiitake and wood-ear mushroom, and water chestnut.) Bojai, or “little pot rice,” has that delicious, distinctive crispy rice at the bottom.
The cocktail list hews to the five elements, so expect spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet elements in the drinks. The Facing Heaven margarita, for example, has Blanca tequila, lime, agave, and a tincture of Facing Heaven. The Opal Tiger looks like one of those decadent milk-tea drinks, made with Goslings rum, house milk tea, and black sugar syrup over ice. There also is a baijiu cocktail.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Saturday.