When COVID-19 shut the city down in March, Simone Tong decided to just close her East Village noodle shop Little Tong for good. Not that the place had been struggling — Tong earned widespread critical acclaim and lots of local love for her bold flavors, inventive menu, and reasonable prices — but she and her business partner Emmeline Zhao had planned on pulling the plug before summer anyway. They wanted to focus on their new venture, the finer-dining establishment Silver Apricot in the West Village.
Of course, the pandemic screwed up those plans as well, but Tong and Zhao have forged ahead and finally opened Silver Apricot about two weeks ago, revamping the menu to ensure that every dish is takeout friendly, and building a modestly-sized but well-appointed curbside patio that can comfortably seat six guests at proper distances.
"We put as much effort in our current menu as if there is no Covid," Tong told Gothamist. "It is just different in style. Instead of small bites of many different edgy dishes and nostalgic flavors, the menu now is more abbreviated, but still very creative and travels well to go." Tong also highlighted that the menu "stays true to our original goal: making quality New Chinese dishes with seasonal, local and, to the best of our ability, premium ingredients."
Tong's commitment to creativity and seasonal ingredients means that, as was the case at Little Tong, the Silver Apricot menu will change with some frequency. And though the prices are more suited to a special occasion than a quick bite (for me, anyway), given the quality and amount of food we ate at a feast last week, the "three-course tasting" prix fixe option for $55 per person feels like a bargain, especially since it's really more like five courses and, if you and your companion choose different items and share, you can eat the entire menu at one go.
Everything was delicious here, from the flaky Scallion Puffs to start (made with spirals of zhajiang, or sweet bean paste), to the lovely Black Sesame Panna Cotta, topped with strawberries and puffed wild rice, for dessert. The pristine Arctic Char, lightly poached, wonderfully intense, and glistening with ginger soy sauce, is one of the best dishes I've had this year, and the other entree option, a meltingly tender Skirt Steak accompanied by a chunky, pleasantly fiery relish, is almost its equal.
Tong makes a perfect plate of Grilled Asparagus with hazelnuts and sweet pepper crisps strewn about, the bowl of Charred Radish and Greens is enlivened by honey soy and shavings of smoked egg yolk, and the Cucumber Melon Salad, with bonus brown butter crunchies, is as delightful and summery as you would hope it to be. Served as a side with our main courses, a hearty bowl of garlicky, congee-like Multi-Grain Porridge, made from barley and quinoa, really hit the spot. And there was a parting gift of homemade Five-Spice Cracker Jacks which, as it happens, I munched down happily for breakfast the next day.
Serving great food and dealing with all of the other challenges of opening a restaurant in NYC during a pandemic isn't Tong's only focus right now, she is also nine months pregnant. "There's no way I could have made this happen without my amazing business partner, the general manager and sommelier Emmeline Zhao," she said. "She is a superwoman, and a leader in bringing Silver Apricot to life."
As for the future of not only her business, but the city's dining industry, Tong leans towards optimism. "It’s an exciting time to figure out the ever changing industry and the new challenges it presents. And being pregnant has taught me a lot about how to be a chef, leader, and mother at the same time," she told us. "The future seems daunting but I remain motivated and positive about our future for New York City."
Silver Apricot is located at 20 Cornelia Street, between Bleecker and West 4th Streets, and is currently open from Tuesday through Sunday, for takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (929-367-8664; silverapricot.nyc)