TGI Fry-Day: Pandan-Wrapped Chicken Wings at Nyonya
I was not expecting Nyonya, a decent if not outstanding Malayasian restaurant we visit now and again, to make one of my favorite plates of chicken wings in New York. But here we are talking about them, and if you're seeking chicken wings beyond the hot sauce and butter treatment, these Nyonya Chicken Wings ($7.95) may become favorites of yours as well.
The wings are fried naked—no batter, no flour dredge—except for a ribbon of pandan tied around each one. When fresh and raw, pandan imparts a bright fragrance somewhere between vanilla and cilantro to everything it touches. When fried, that herbal sweetness becomes more subtle but also more deep, an almost caramelized flavor that perfumes the chicken's crisp skin. (Untie and remove the pandan before eating.)
The caramelized pandan-scented wings are then tossed in a thin glaze, which is only lightly sweet and funky from a glug of fish sauce. It leaves the skin firm and crisp, not soggy, and it doesn't bowl over the chicken meat itself. About that chicken: it's not greasy in the slightest, and if it's not the most tender wing out there, it's all in service of a beautiful crust.
All of this is served with some chili paste on the side, a spicy finish to a chicken dish with surprisingly complex flavors going on. Which, at about a buck a wing, we can all appreciate, buffalo fans or otherwise.
199 Grand Street, New York, NY 10013 (map)