A hotly anticipated restaurant is opening soon in New Orleans’s Uptown neighborhood, transforming former bistro Dick & Jenny’s into a self-described tropical roadhouse serving “inauthentic,” globally inspired cuisine. Mister Mao, from chef Sophina Uong and her husband and partner William “Wildcat” Greenwell, is set to open on July 24 with dim sum-style roving carts, expert-led bar and pastry programs, and an interactive chef’s counter.
The beguiling menu is broken into five categories: it starts out with Drinking Snacks, including dishes like the Banchan Mao, described as bites of pickled fruit, lacto ferments of “imperfect” produce, and dried shrimp mochi; and scallion bread served with smoked eggplant and dipping sauce. Foods We Love to Share offers escargot Wellingtons, snails en croute with lemon, garlic butter, horseradish, and powdered greens; and Alabama corn pudding served with tomatoes, cucumber, sumac, and herb jam. A lineup of pork shanks, wagyu beef, and masa dumplings are entrees in the You Don’t Have to Share section, and a category devoted to spicy dishes (named These Bring Us Joy + Hellfire Heartburn) includes habanero octopus aguachile and a pani puri made with potato masala and Camellia red beans stuffed into a puffy wheat ball and filled tableside with a “fiery” mint water.
Perhaps most intriguing of all are dim-sum-style, roving carts serving frequently rotating small plates. Titled Here Comes the Chuck Wagon on the menu, sample dishes include pierogi-style dumplings made with coconut and chile, duck confit served with cucumber and Kashmiri chile oil, and bacalaitos, or cod fish fritters.
Throughout the menu are continuous references to local suppliers — diners will recognize names like local roaster Congregation Coffee (used in a pork shank rub), Raines Farm’s wagyu beef, and the increasingly popular Backwater Farm, for the duck confit. Pastry chef Sarah Cotton, with past stints at local spots like Restaurant August and Shaya, creates the desserts, which so far include a dark chocolate tart with black garlic and crispy rice and activated charcoal cookies. The bar is led by Greenwell, Uong’s husband and Mister Mao co-owner, who’s worked previously at cocktail destination the Elysian Bar, with cocktail creations blending herby and tropical ingredients as well as a number of refreshingly complex no-proof drinks.
Uong says the menu is a result of collaborative cooking traditions from across the globe, with some of the offerings meant to reimagine traditional Southern dishes, like the Alabama corn pudding. Uong is Cambodian-American, and grew up in Long Beach, California, after fleeing Cambodia with her family during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. The self-taught chef has worked at a number of acclaimed Bay Area restaurants — Waterbar, Revival Bar + Kitchen, and Calavera, where she took over the kitchen in 2016 — and in 2018 was tapped to manage Andrew Zimmern’s short-lived Lucky Cricket restaurant in Minneapolis. It closed in 2019, following scrutiny surrounding Zimmern’s controversial comments about Chinese food in the Midwest.
The couple then landed in New Orleans, leasing the Dick & Jenny’s space after the restaurant’s closure at the end of February 2020 — just a few weeks prior to local shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Uong and Greenwell experienced a number of setbacks with the restaurant thereafter, some pandemic-related, some common to opening a restaurant in New Orleans (permit delays, flooding, and Sewerage and Waterboard issues). They held a number of pop-ups under the Mister Mao name at spots like Congregation Coffee and Zony Mash Beer Project, serving dishes like chicken tikka tacos; Cambodian hot and sour soup with pork riblets; and escargot yakitori.
Mister Mao is set to open at 4501 Tchoupitoulas Street on July 24, serving dinner Thursday through Monday from 5 to 10 p.m., closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Stay tuned for an Eater inside look at the restaurant closer to its debut.
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