I went to Bali for my honeymoon and have very fond memories of the food, which is why I was so excited to hear about the opening of Wayan, a new Indonesian restaurant in Nolita run by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s son Cedric. Everyday for breakfast I would eat a soothing bowl of bubur ayam, an Indonesian chicken congee, and dinners would involve either seafood or tasty platters of grilled barbecued meats (I’m especially partial to those from the famous restaurant Naughty Nuri’s). Indonesian food in NYC, however, is quite a niche category, so unless you trek out to Elmhurst or somewhere, it’s hard to come by.
Wayan definitely has a hit on its hands, so Indonesian food will no longer be totally obscure. Nolita is becoming a hub for high-end Southeast Asian food scene with Uncle Boon’s on one side of Spring Street and Wayan on the other. Wayan markets itself as a casual restaurant, but the elegant Balinese accents suggest something more upscale, particularly at night, when a dark, clubby ambiance and candle lights permeate the dining room.
The food prices are a lot higher and the portions are smaller than what I remember from my travels in Indonesia, but I can’t deny how much I enjoyed everything. I absolutely loved the chicken satays, which were coated in a sublime peanut sauce with a touch of lemongrass. There are jars of sambal at every table in case you want to add a little heat to your food. The other obvious standout was the bowl of juicy, starchy lobster noodles. The only flaw about it was how it was falsely marketed as a “large plate” when a single person like me could easily crush it.
Some dishes are designated as sides, but they were definitely good enough to share the spotlights with the mains, particularly the nasi goreng and the corn fritters. The nasi goreng, the Indonesian version of fried rice, was saucy and savory, reminding me of the joy of scooping up every bit of the ketchup and gravy-laced grains in a Japanese omurice. As for those corn fritters, there didn’t seem to be anything Indonesian about them, but they were certainly delicious. I was less impressed by the baby back pork ribs, which I was hoping would remind me of the ones at Naughty Nuri’s, but they didn’t.
The best dessert I’ve had in 2019 so far is definitely the banana sundae with purple yam ice cream at Wayan. It looks deliciously messy and childlike with its bright purple and yellow coloring, and tastes as homey and comforting as you would think. If you want something a little more mellow, the pandan custard is the better option, but it didn’t bring as much joy as the banana sundae did, and Marie Kondo wouldn’t approve of that.
In case you were curious, “wayan” is the name given to the first born child in Balinese culture. Maybe this is a sign of a pending ambition to open even more Indonesian restaurants in New York, and if it is, those siblings certainly have a lot to live up to.
20 Spring Street (between Elizabeth and Mott St)
New York, NY 10012