Chiko (954 Manhattan Ave.) opened in 2018, before the pandemic upended New York’s restaurant scene.
The small and sleek spot had a chef’s counter that served a 13-course omakase tasting menu. Chef and owner Xiaowei Zheng, who is originally from Fuzhou, China has worked at popular restaurants like Sushi Dojo and Il Buco Alimentari and was in a unique position to make his menu decidedly Japanese but with hints of French and Italian influences.
In 2020, everything changed and Chef Zheng pivoted to a takeout only model that has continued after the pandemic. The rotating takeout menu includes only a few delicious Chinese dishes for around $15.
Greenpointers spoke with Chef Zheng about his continuation of the takeout model, his past experience with different cuisines, and the reason he chose the Greenpoint neighborhood for his own restaurant.
Greenpointers: Have you always wanted to be a chef?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: I have wanted to be a chef since I was a child. I grew up with my grandparents who were chefs, and I started helping out in their restaurants when I was a little older. That’s how I got into the restaurant business.
Greenpointers: You have worked at other renowned restaurants in New York. When did you decide you wanted to open your own restaurant?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: I have worked in many different cuisine restaurants in New York, including American, Italian, French, Japanese restaurants. After working in New York for 10 years, I learned a lot about the restaurant experience, and at that time, I also wanted to cook my own dishes and share them with everyone.
Greenpointers: Why did you choose to open Chiko in Greenpoint?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: I wanted to find a special place to open Chiko that has the same respect for tradition and love for innovation as I do. I started looking for an area that would suit me, and I found Greenpoint. I spent a few mornings and evenings walking around in Greenpoint. I think Greenpoint has very traditional and beautiful streets like Kent Street and a very innovative and energetic atmosphere.
Greenpointers: During the pandemic, Chiko pivoted from a tasting menu to a tight takeout only menu. Why did you decide to change Chiko’s model?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: Because of the epidemic at that time, my sushi tasting menu was not suitable for delivery. So, I decided to change the model of Chiko. We now provide a small menu that ensures the quality of each dish. Even if it takes a while to bring home or deliver, it will still be delicious.
Greenpointers: Do you plan to take Chiko back to a tasting menu in the future?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: I don’t think I’ll change Chiko back to the original testing menu. After I changed to the takeaway menu, I felt like I was back where I started. My grandfather taught me to cook every dish in a Chinese wok, and my grandmother taught me to wrap my first wonton. I have found my roots.
Greenpointers: What dish would you recommend for those who are trying Chiko for the first time?
Chef Xiaowei Zheng: I recommend everything we have on the menu! If you want to choose one, try our mapo tofu; everyone says it is the best. Be sure not to miss our homemade chili oil, which you can put on all your food to make them more layered and delicious.