With the closure of Dick & Jenny’s came Mister Mao, owned and operated by wife and husband team Chef Sophina Uong and William “Wildcat” Greenwell. The veteran culinary and cocktail whizzes are no strangers to the upscale restaurant scene; you’ve probably sampled their stuff at Rockrose (Uong) or the Elysian Bar (Greenwell). But for the last couple of months, they tested out the flavors that would eventually be featured at Mister Mao on the small scale, popping up around town at places including Zony Mash Brewery. Now that Mister Mao has entered the scene as a full-on brick-and-mortar, Chef Uong, bar genius Greenwell, and the whole staff have a place to let their imaginations and skills flourish.
Mister Mao is a gorgeous space with tropical and chic art deco style and lively, fun touches everywhere. You’ll walk to your table on animal print rugs, and the tigers in the large mural are the perfect background for your Instagram.
After seating, your eyes are probably going to be directed to the drink menu, which includes local beer, a decent-sized wine selection, non-alcoholic drinks, and cocktails. I like to sample the signature cocktails at restaurants, so my dinner companion and I started out with two great drinks from the interesting menu (they also offer drinks like Uncle Butthead and Daddy Issues).
I indulged in the Miss Piggy: a lovely and light vodka-based drink with elderflower, grapefruit juice, and a sugared rim. My companion had the Thirsty Sarah: a gin drink with the earthy flavors of ginger, mint, and lemon. They were perfect palate cleansers for the amusement park of flavors yet to come. We were brought an amuse bouche of fresh raw salmon seated on a crisp tortilla to have with them. The freshness of both the drinks and the fish set a great, exciting tone for the evening.
The premiere courses are called Drinking Snacks. I was intrigued by the Pineapple Hawaiian Rolls, which would have been tasty and fluffy enough on their own. The addition of the charred eggplant and garlic confit butter was phenomenal. I was surprised with the first bite and delighted with every subsequent bite. The spread was rich and savory atop the bread, which had it’s own natural, citrusy sweetness. We also ordered the Escargot Wellington, which was topped with a dab of lemony yogurt, heightened with a touch of horseradish, and garnished with bright green powder of stems.
We were then brought a plate of perfect Pani Purry, an Indian street food consisting of flaky, thin pastry balls with filling. The Pani Purry was packed with pickled blueberries, currants, and more, and we were instructed to pour a small amount of fire mint water into the ball before eating it. The effect was a crispy shell that literally burst flavor into your mouth. Be careful, though. Too much mint water will cause the splash to exit your mouth.
I had to try one particular cocktail because the base spirit is Malort, a sometimes celebrated, sometimes reviled liquor. John’s Secret Dragon Lady mixed the Malort with Benedictine, Velvet Falernum, orange essence, and a little bit of salt in such a way that no one could hate this drink. It was complex, yet inviting. The Malort did leave a very slight tingling along the tongue into the throat, but it just made the cocktail more interesting.
The menu says that you don’t have to share the scallops, but we each had some of the Chesapeake Bay Scallops, which were steaming hot on a bed of large chunks of applewood bacon, green beans, and squash and dripping with oyster sauce. These were the plumpest, juiciest, and most satisfying scallops I may have ever tasted. Hot, rich, and they almost melted in your mouth.
Onwards to the entrees, I had to have the Kashmiri Fried Chicken. It was a deep red color due to the rich, smokey Szechuan pepper dry seasoning on it, but the dish was made more colorful with a dollop of black salt lime cream and topped with a Poor Man’s Pink Pineapple. We also needed to try the Drunken Shrimp. The plump shrimp were perfectly cooked and rolled in Tabasco mash, chile arbol, and mezcal. The shrimp were accompanied by sweet potato, avocado, and very large crispy mushrooms.
Dinner here cannot be complete without sweets. We had both the Dark Chocolate Tart and the Congregation Coffee Jelly. My friend really loved the coffee jelly, which our server topped with a thick sweet potato anglaise cream. The candied pecans were made extra rich next to the burnt almond whip. The blocks of coffee jelly stood out in the sea of white decadence. While it was amazing, I have to say that the Dark Chocolate Tart was my jam. The extremely rich tart was heavy with flavor, especially because it and the thick sauce around the plate contained black garlic. The tart was speared with crispy peanut sesame brittle that had to be eaten as a finger food.
Mister Mao will stand out in the New Orleans culinary scene for their inventive spirit, experimental flavor combinations, and always-fresh, always-changing menu. You shouldn’t just visit once; you need to go back again and again to see what the team has cooked up now.