Chef Chris Cheung has cooked his way through numerous New York City restaurant kitchens over the past two decades. As a line cook, he landed a spot on Nobu’s launch team and worked under Wylie Dufresne during the pioneer’s tenure at Jean-Georges. Later, he ran the short-lived Almond Flower Bistro in Chinatown and the Hotel Elysee’s Monkey Bar. Last month, the Chinatown-raised progressive-Chinese chef opened East Wind Snack Shop (471 16th Street, Brooklyn; 929-295-0188), bringing elevated homemade dim sum and small plates to Brooklyn’s Windsor Terrace, the neighborhood he’s called home during most of his career.
Tucked into a shoebox-sized space near the 15th Street F/G station, East Wind represents a tonal shift for Cheung. Having worked primarily in fine dining, he found inspiration in Chinatown’s once populous teahouses (Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street being an archetype of the genre), and the relaxed environs suited him just fine. From narrow, open cooking quarters overlooking a small dining room splashed in red and white, Cheung fries up greaseless vegetable spring rolls and steams flashy foie-gras-filled bao buns, tempering the luxury offal with sweet soy and scallions. The dough is made from scratch. Chewy and dense, it works great with the liver but drags down a pork belly bao garnished with hoisin sauce, herbs, and peanuts.
Given the standard of quality and care Cheung puts into his dishes (which manager Albert Kang mimics up front), the fact that he’s able to keep the menu firmly in “cheap eats” territory comes as a relief. You won’t find five-for-a-dollar dumplings, but the five pork dumplings ($5) you do get here exhibit that delicious textural dichotomy of juicy innards and crackled exteriors. A beef version of the thin-skinned orbs costs a couple dollars extra, but they’re stuffed with supple, dry-aged meat that packs in noticeable bovine funk — a treat to pair with standard accoutrements like hot and soy sauces. Most of the food arrives in cardboard baskets lined with wax paper, but that’s a fine compromise when prices top out at $12 for a pile of sweet, sticky chili-sauce-slathered ribs served with rice and pickles. Vegetarian diners with appetites can follow those spring rolls with an order of stir-fried “Happy Buddha” vegetables.
For dessert, try doughnut-like Hong Kong–style fritters dusted with lemon sugar, fried to order and perfect for pairing with hot or cold tea. The options are limited to chrysanthemum and bubble varieties, but just like at the establishments it pays homage to, the tea at this teahouse is sort of beside the point. The drinks soothe (or refresh) nonetheless.
It bears pointing out that Cheung is another in an increasing number of chefs who’ve abandoned exalted kitchens to serve their communities. East Wind Snack Shop readily excels in this regard, providing gentrifying Brooklyn with a casual, welcoming environment within which to sample Cheung’s largely excellent, gussied-up Chinese street food.