Chef Connie Chung and her Milu co-founders Vincent Chao and Milan Sekulio have spent many years working in important positions at extremely high-end restaurants, most notably Eleven Madison Park and NoMad. But when they started planning their first place together, back in the pre-pandemic days of 2019, they all agreed that they wanted a break from the fine-dining game. And so we get this amazing new restaurant, a decidedly unfussy and definitely delicious counter service spot at which the trio can serve the type of food that they love to eat, with dishes from regions all over China, and all at reasonable prices.
Just to be extra clear, Milu's fast-casual concept is not the result of a COVID pivot. The pandemic delayed the opening—construction work was hard to come by for a while there, so Chao, Chung, and Sekulio went in and did a lot of the work themselves, including tiling the floors—but the design and most of the menu was all set to go way back in February. And while they obviously wish all those workers were back in their offices around Madison Square Park, eager to gorge on rice bowls for lunch, "at some point you just can't wait any longer," says Chao. "You just have to open."
I was invited for a press meal on Milu's opening day, and gleefully made my way through a nice chunk of the menu. It's a terrific restaurant, and would definitely be my go-to pre-movie spot in the area if we could still go to movies. Whatever though, I'll figure out another reason to get up to Park Avenue South as often as possible just to eat the food here.
The core of the menu are Chung's bowls, served with a base of white rice or mixed grains and topped with one of five well-seasoned proteins. There's a Soy Roasted Chicken bowl, a Ginger Scallion Salmon, a Sichuan Spiced Cauliflower, and, the two I tried, a fiery Yunnan Brisket and a meltingly tender Mandarin Duck. Both of these latter came with a handful of greens and a pile of spicy pickled cucumbers, and even the "small" size provided ample sustenance for a complete meal.
That said, Milu's sides are really good too, especially the Tofu Seaweed Salad which, in addition to the headliners, also features bean sprouts and snow pea slivers and eats like the world's best coleslaw. There are some excellent Won Tons to be had as well, stuffed with either Pork and Fennel or Broccoli and Mushroom and generously splattered with a chili and ginger sauce.
Absolutely leave room for dessert, which includes some sophisticated soft serve (either Milk Tea or Egg Tart), Chocolate Malt Cookies, or, Milu's sleeper hit and one of the best things I ate this week, juicy Pineapple Buns exploding with vanilla custard. Hong Kong Style Milk Tea, coffee, beer, wine, and sake are also available. There's even a small pantry area in the back, with a nicely designed line of condiments and such, in case you want to bring the party home.
Milu has a small curbside dining area which can seat about ten, and there's plenty of space inside if you're comfortable with that. The room itself looks fantastic, and in a non-COVID world those booths would be the move. Everything (except maybe the soft serve) is obviously well suited for takeout and delivery as well.
Milu is located at 333 Park Avenue South, between 24th and 25th Streets, and is currently open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (212-377-6403; eatmilu.com)