We decide on two skewers of quail eggs wrapped in bacon, Chiang Mai pork sausage, and a mystery called the Nonya carrot cake. "Great‚" our waiter says, "let’s start there." He leaves our menus. The order-as-you-go, try-a-little-of-this-and-a-little-of-that approach to dining is one of Ping’s selling points. Plates arrive one by one as they’re prepared. The procession of bite-size dishes invites you to settle in, order a drink, and briefly savor each smoky, sticky, crunchy arrival. Then, order another.
After the first round of food, it’s easy to get into the rhythm. The small skewered quail eggs are mild and creamy against the hearty strips of bacon and tangy mayo dressing. Cilantro and lemongrass lighten thick slices of sausage. A blazing-hot dipping sauce accompanies sweet and succulent pork collar marinated in honey and black pepper. The so-called carrot cake turns out to be a revelation: compressed cakes of daikon radish—similar in texture to tofu—are stir-fried with eggs, bean sprouts, and a thick Indonesian sauce similar to soy sauce, but less salty, with deep caramel notes.
We order a second round: the steamed pork buns are pleasantly doughy with a sweet center of shredded pork, and the skewered quail halves are deep-fried to a crispy perfection that makes navigating the tangle of tiny bones worth the effort. Our ever-enthused waiter recommends taking bites of the ginger and whole-pepper garnish to cleanse the palate.
Besides such exotic and varied fare, what Ping dishes up best is an experience—from the do-it-yourself condiment combinations
(like black pepper, sea salt, and lime you mix together to pour over wild prawns) to the evocative shabby-chic décor. Here, laminated tablecloths look like Taiwanese newsprint, languid swaths of rice paper dangle over the bustling open kitchen, and vintage radios fill a wall of shelves. When we walk out into the night, it feels like we could be emerging from a back-alley supper club in some distant Asian metropolis; Chinatown’s lacquered red gates loom just down the block.
The authentic experience is complete.