Over the weekend, chef Alex Ong of ~BETELNUT~ announced over Facebook that he was closing the iconic restaurant after dinner service on Sunday March 3rd and reopening it as HUTONG around March 11th or so. (A friend let me know “hutong” means “alley” in Chinese, and that many restaurants in China are in back alleys.)
While people immediately started decrying the end of the green beans and Cecilia Chiang’s minced chicken lettuce cups (I squawked over the end of the cha ca la vong and beggar’s chicken), at least guests will still be able request the beggar’s chicken with 24 hours’ notice. (Ong will be creating a “Happy Meal” section on the menu, featuring a rotating selection of two of the classic Betelnut dishes on there—he understands how sentimental these favorite dishes can be for regulars.)
I have been a big fan of chef Ong’s flavor-forward cuisine, but can understand how he’d like to not be shackled by a menu of 18-year-old dishes that he inherited when he started in 2001. He was recently traveling extensively throughout Asia (killing me daily on Facebook with his pics of delicious dishes), so we can look forward to seeing what inspired him with Hutong’s new small plates concept. Dishes will cost $7-$15 and will range in provenance from the back alleys of Beijing to Malaysia to Vietnam. Cocktails will also be getting a do-over.
The space will be going through a light renovation: They are hiring a street artist to do some treatments to the walls, which will be covered with newspaper ads, posters, and more for that back-alley feel. (If you want the vintage posters with the Betelnut girls, they will be sold on eBay—I just might need to bid on one!) The kitchen will also be getting some new equipment, like a modified pizza oven that will be used for flatbreads and a custom Argentine asado grill that will be installed in March.
One more thing to note: Lunch will be discontinued from Mon-Thu and will just be served Fri-Sat. If it ends up there’s a demand for it to come back early in the week, the team will consider it. Best wishes to chef Ong in this new chapter, I’m excited to taste what he’s been working on for so long.
The lounge at Betelnut. Photo © Brooke Gray Photography via Facebook.