Restaurateur and chef Salil Mehta is expanding his Southeast Asian restaurant footprint in NYC. After opening hit restaurants Laut, near Union Square, and Laut Singapura, in Gramercy Park, Mehta is gearing up to open Wau, a new Upper West Side establishment, at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 81st Street, on Thursday, September 9. This time around he’s focusing on showcasing kampung-style and comfort food dishes from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Diners familiar with Mehta’s restaurants will find several similarities on the menu with dishes like the Malaysian curry and rice dish nasi lemak, the Indonesian fried rice dish nasi goreng, and the Malaysian-Indian stuffed savory pancake murtabak. But unlike the more red meat and seafood focus of the other establishments, Wau will highlight chicken in its dishes, as well as more vegan and vegetarian fare.
New additions include a vegan calamari prepared using young coconut meat that’s fried tempura-style along with bell peppers and chiles. Then there’s the nasi biryani, a Malaysian regional version of the rice dish that’s prepared with cranberries and cashew nuts, among other ingredients. Mehta has also created a Thai tiramisu for the restaurant where ladyfinger biscuits are dipped in Thai tea and then layered with a mixture of coconut milk and coconut flakes, among other ingredients.
“I would describe this as back to basics Southeast Asian comfort food,” Mehta tells Eater. “It feels like simplicity has been lost in recent times, and we don’t want to focus on overcomplicated stuff right now.”
There’s also an exciting cocktail menu developed by Colin Stevens, who previously worked at places like the Standard Hotel’s Boom Boom Room. Expect drinks like the wau-lah, a painkiller-like cocktail, a creation of coconut cream, pandan, and palm sugar that’s shaken together with orange and pineapple juice. “It comes out nice and frothy,” says Mehta. “It is kind of like a Singaporean version of a piña colada.” Then there’s the white coffee martini, an espresso martini-like drink, but one made with sweet Malaysian white coffee.
Wau seats 45 people inside at full capacity at diner-style booths and smaller tables for two. There’s bar seating for an additional 10 people, and Mehta has also created an expansive outdoor seating area for 65 people that’s meant to resemble hawker markets in Malaysia and Singapore.
Wau is the latest effort for Mehta, a prolific NYC restaurateur and chef, who aside from Laut and Laut Singapura, has also been behind the Flatiron district Shanghainese restaurant Baodega, and the now-shuttered Indian-Chinese establishment Chinese Club. Following the opening of Laut in 2010, the establishment became of one the first Malaysian restaurants to get a Michelin star. Mehta has several more projects in the pipeline including a new cocktail bar and potentially a second location for Laut, but said it’s too early to share details for that at present. For now he’s focussed on welcoming diners to Wau.
“I feel like Southeast Asian cuisine is a really good representation of food across Asia with all its varied influences,” says Mehta. “I want to to continue showing how amazing food from places like Malaysia and Singapore is.” Wau is open daily from 12 to 10 p.m.