Billy Ngo, the sushi chef and owner of Kru, was profiled recently in the Bee's Food & Wine section as he readied to open his latest venture. Ngo' new restaurant, Red Lotus, has finally opened at the former G.V. Hurley's at 2718 J St. in midtown. We say "finally" because Ngo's been trying to open Red Lotus since fall of 2009, but held up in red tape for the liquor license.
That liquor license has yet to arrive at Red Lotus, but Ngo expects this to be resolved within the next two weeks. So for the time being, Red Lotus is serving food and non-alcoholic drinks until their paperwork gets completed.
We dropped by on Saturday night to check out Red Lotus in "soft opening" mode. There was no signage yet outside, and patrons filtered in slowly but steadily throughout the evening. Ngo's using this time to fine tune the menu and coordination in the kitchen before the crunch of its upcoming grand opening.
And how much a beer will hit the spot. Red Lotus' menu of Chinese and Asian small plates features plenty of spicy touches, from its kung pao chicken wings ($6.50) to seared Wagyu beef placed over hot mustard ($15). The long beans with XO sauce ($7), a spicy sauce generally used with Cantonese seafood dishes, also carried a nice kick.
Fans of Ngo's cooking at Kru will certainly want to check Red Lotus. We liked that no menu item cost more than $15, yet the dishes didn't skimp on savory and spicy flavors. There's also a sense of fun in the execution. A dessert order of donuts with condensed milk and jackfruit ($5) were presented in a Chinese to-go box that was laid sideways, as if the donuts were spilling out of the container.
Ngo meanwhile looked a little anxious, surveying the room and huddling with kitchen staff.
"I'm excited and happy," said Ngo. "I'm a little nervous about the reaction to the food, but I've been getting good feedback from people so far. Some people have come in but left because there's no alcohol, but everything's still going good. We'll see how the turnout is tonight."