Here’s what I had to say in the original letter:
Work toward the new fusion: Atlanta is one of the country’s best cities for new immigrant cooking. Our mainstream restaurants need to better reflect the reality of today’s multiethnic South. Have you heard of the Indian vegetable called drumstick? It can be as delicious as artichokes. Have you tried mashing boniato sweet potatoes, which are as white as clouds? Have you ever tried a sprig of fresh fenugreek at the DeKalb Farmers Market? Might you consider trying local goat for a winter special? If you like to go to Korean joints on Buford Highway, do you ever think about how to incorporate those flavors (chile, garlic, sugar, fermented vegetables) to a smart, wine-friendly dining sensibility?
Here’s why I think Wong exemplifies this quality:
Wong’s attempt at an izakaya (basically a Japanese-style pub with a small-plates menu) got off to a rocky beginning. For starters, he couldn’t get a liquor license for far too long, and an izakaya without sake is kind of like a KFC Double Down without chicken. Then the booze arrived, and what booze it was! All manner of craft sake and shochu (another distilled spirit), with clever mixed cocktails. But the food? Eh: milquetoast Asian dumplings, rolls, wings, whatever. Wong, who toured many izakayas in Japan, kept plugging away with revisions and new dishes. He never tried to go super-traditional at Miso Izakaya: Tipsy Japanese people may want fermented squid guts, but the dipsomaniacs of the Old Fourth Ward preferred steamed buns filled with roast duck. He debuted a late-night ramen menu. And he started to play. Pork belly over creamy grits made perfect sense in an Atlanta izakaya. So did a tangle of snow pea leaves with garlic, or a nugget of batter-fried camembert cheese with chili jam, or a crispy rice cake topped with a poached egg. Through these dishes he has channeled the Japanese spirit of the izakaya, intact.