Greenpoint’s newest hotspot Wenwen (1025 Manhattan Ave.) recently opened its doors in mid-March. The Taiwanese gem comes from co-owners Eric Sze and Andy Chuang of the wildly popular 886 in the East Village.
Wenwen aims to deliver the same good food and good times as 886 with an added dose of warmth and nostalgia. “We want the restaurant to feel homey,” says Sze, who is not only a co-owner, but the head chef.
“Good food plus good people equals a good time,” said Sze. “We know Greenpoint is filled with good people, so if you like the food, it will be a good time.” The lack of available reservations proves people are digging the food and can certainly expect to enjoy Wenwen.
Greenpointers spoke with Sze about the opening of his second restaurant, what to order there, his favorite things to do in Greenpoint, and more.
Greenpointers: How have your first few weeks in Greenpoint been?
Chef Eric Sze: People have been very supportive. I’m not used to this level of support, and it all kind of took me by surprise. We are booked up through May.
Greenpointers: Sounds like you know what you’re doing. Have you always wanted to be a chef?
Sze: I’m a restaurant guy. But, I still don’t necessarily consider myself a chef because I don’t have any formal training. I learn from my mistakes. It’s a luxury not everyone has. I have always known that I wanted to be a part of the food industry. I love food, and I love cooking. So, I put two and two together.
Greenpointers: What or who influenced you to enter the food industry?
Sze: My mom has always had a unique relationship with food. She instilled in me the mentality that food tells stories. It not just nourishment. Food can tell a story. This entire restaurant is a story.
Greenpointers: Your first restaurant 886 was named after Taiwan’s international calling code. We know that the name Wenwen has special meaning also. Tell us about it.
Sze: Wenwen is named after my mom and my wife who both have the character “Wen” in their names. The character “Wen” has multiple meanings. The primary meaning is language, but it also implies elegance and grace. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them. I wouldn’t have the restaurant without them. So, it was a no brainer.
Greenpointers: 886 is known to harbor a real party vibe. Does Wenwen have the same atmosphere?
Sze: Wenwen does not necessarily have the same atmosphere, but it is similar in that it is a place where you can and want to have fun. Having fun has so many different meanings. Fun at 886 inspires a night of dinner and drinking with no regrets. It’s an early twenties kind of fun.
Wenwen is a dinner party kind of fun. The fun at Wenwen is not like a rager, but just as much fun.
Greenpointers: When we finally get a reservation at Wenwen, what should we order?
Sze: It depends on how hungry you are, but I’d start with the Popcorn Chicken. The Celtuce Salad has been a surprise. People really like it. If you like spicy food, get the Water Spinach and Shrimp Paste. In the Share section of the menu, you’ll see the Pork Belly and Cuttlefish. This is my mom’s recipe and was one of my favorite things to eat growing up. Also, don’t sleep on the Whole Striped Bass. It’s boneless and meaty.
Greenpointers: Why did you choose Greenpoint as the neighborhood for Wenwen?
Sze: We have lived in Long Island City for seven years, but never walked over the Pulaski Bridge. When my wife and I were walking around a lot during height of pandemic, we found ourselves in North Greenpoint, and I instantly thought the neighborhood was gorgeous. The buildings are not super tall, so places get lots of light. I started going to the small businesses in Greenpoint and found that the food quality is phenomenal. People like to eat good food here and know what good food is.
I want a neighborhood restaurant. I know it’s cliche, but I wanted to tell a story and connect with people from a local community. Greenpoint is filled with good people. Good food plus good people equals a good time.
Greenpointers: What are your favorite restaurants in Greenpoint (other than Wenwen)?
Sze: El Manjar Dominicano (141 India St.) does simple, protein-heavy food that is really good and affordable. I get the braised meat or chicken. I found myself going there three times a week.
I take every one of my meetings at Bakeri (105 Freeman St.). The interior is gorgeous, and food is phenomenal.
I feel a connection there. I don’t eat a lot of pastries, but I reserve all pastry consumption for Bakeri. They have my favorite croissant in New York.
I also love Sama Street (988 Manhattan Ave.). With the size of that kitchen, they have no business being that good. It’s the best kept secret in cocktail world.
Greenpointers: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Sze: I play video games at home; I’m that guy. When I want to be more active, I go axe throwing. There is a place on West Street called Bury the Hatchet (25 Noble St.). I also like to go on strolls by the water. It’s a great vibe.
Greenpointers: What’s your favorite food to make when you’re relaxing at home with your wife?
Sze: Wenwen has kept me very busy, but when I have the time and energy, I like to make a romantic two person hot pot with her. We get meat from The Meat Hook (397 Graham Ave.) and vegetables from local markets and make a hot pot together.