When Mstislav Rostropovich's mother carried the then-embryonic and now recently deceased cellist for a 10 month gestation, she said the extra month was to better develop his hands, hands which later "dazzled listeners with both his richly personalized interpretations and a majestic warmth of tone." By that logic, Pichet Ong's new restaurant P*ONG should be perfect—after nearly a year of delays, the West Village restaurant opened earlier this week. Despite our natural and understandable aversion to cutely punctuated names, we checked it out.
Before Pichet Ong developed a love for asterisks, he was Jean George's pastry chef. The menu is thus divided into savory, savory-sweet and sweet. Within each section, the prices range from 12 to 19 dollars or so.
When a restaurant and chef trades on innovation and whimsy, finding the right decor is a challenge. As one might suspect from the name, this is where the restaurant makes one nutty. First of all, the asterisk theme is everywhere: On the asymmetrical mirrors, on the menus. Quirky pillows perch above the banquet and Eames chairs swivel freely. One wall is curvy wood. That is to say, it's all mid-season Top Design material. On the other hand, the crowd—which seemed to be mostly couples on dates—were eating it up. The couple next to us—Her: "I've always been into astrology. What's your rising sign?" Him: "Oooh, lemongrass! Um, Sirius? Look, asterisk!"
Conclusion: Probably not destined to be a comfortable neighborhood spot, P*ONG will succeed because it is priced right for dates and business dinners and the food is remarkable, as in, it gives you something to talk about. Also because guys who take girls for freaky food come off as adventurous progressive lovers who ain't afraid to bring toys into the bedroom or a Meyer lemon sabayon to a tartare.