I was rolling solo around dinnertime last night, so when I saw that there was a bar seat to be had at P*ong, I seized the opportunity to get a taste of what all the Pichet Ong fuss was about. Four beautifully creative samplings later I saw that it's about this: the one-time pastry chef at Spice Market at 66 clearly has a knack for concocting the unusual, artfully conceived, deliciously constructed dish.
The short but appealing menu is divided into three sections: Savory, Sweet and Savory, and Sweet. My first item from the Savory side was a super-creamy—almost wilted, in a good way—Escarole "Green Goddess" Salad, the mild dressing a nice contrast to the bitter greens, the whole thing completed by two crunchy croutons layered with avocado and melt-in-your-mouth white anchovy slices. This was outstanding. Next was Bluefin Tuna Tartar, a brilliant idea—a pile of finely chopped fish mixed with intense dried black olive and cucumber, side of seaweed, all on a slather of custardy meyer lemon sabayon—marred by a slight though definitely unwelcome bitterness (gaminess?) to the fish.
Sweet and Savory was next, and the most simple but possibly the best dish of my meal: three or four fresh and gooey Medjool Dates, sliced in half, drizzled with Aleppo honey and then hidden beneath a generous pile of hard, sharp, aged Spanish mahon cheese. Excellent stuff. Then it was P*ong's raison d'etre, dessert. All seven selections sounded tempting (I resisted ordering the three- or five-course dessert tasting special), but in the end settled on an amazing Coconut Creme Caramel—dense, sweet, creamy—surrounded by floes of tart and unbelievably refreshing rhubarb ice, sprinkled with fresh basil and pink salt. This was kind of like getting a double scoop cup of ice cream and sorbet (which I've always been afraid of), but it somehow worked perfectly together.
P*ong's decor is stylish and cool without seeming too forced, the staff thoroughly professional, the chef Ong working right there behind the bar. Most dishes (all would qualify as small plates) cost between $10 and $14. The restaurant is located under some scaffolding on West 10th Street, at Waverly Place.