EAST VILLAGE — An alumnus of a famously innovative Lower East Side eatery will soon debut her flavorful rice noodle bowls in a series of pop-ups to preview the March launch of her East Village restaurant.
Simone Tong was watching a TV show about the iconic restaurant, WD-50 — widely known before its 2014 closure for chef Wylie Dufresne's inventive and upscale dishes — when she realized the culinary arts were for her.
"While I was watching the Food Network I found out about this restaurant called WD-50," recalled Tong, who on Sunday will host the first of four pop-up shops previewing the Little Tong Noodle Shop.
"I thought, 'This is a crazy restaurant! It's a combination of science and art! I want to be a chef!'"
Tong enrolled in downtown's Institute of Culinary Education, and soon afterward found herself in the kitchen of WD-50, where she worked as a cook for four years.
Now, she is combining the creative approach to cooking she picked up in Dufresne's kitchen with her own roots in Chinese cuisine — and her desire to create "flavor bombs" with her dishes — in the Little Tong Noodle Shop.
"Even though I learned the science part of food and the French part of food from WD-50, I'm Chinese, I'm Asian — I wanted to introduce big, bold flavors," she said.
Tong's shop, slated tentatively for an early March opening at 177 First Ave., will serve up a variety of rice noodle bowls with broths, pickled vegetables and chili-based condiments for bold flavor.
The dishes will premiere at two back-to-back pop-up dinners at local bar Jimmy's No. 43 at 43 E. Seventh St. on Feb. 12 and 13.
The third pop-up will be held on Feb. 19 at Japanese eatery Asazu at 49 Clinton St. — right across the street from what once was WD-50, which is now being replaced by a luxury condo development at 50 Clinton St.
"I would not want to go back because I cannot bear to see the condo right now, but it's a sentimental, nostalgic reason I wanted to do the pop-up," Tong said.
The final pop-up will be at Gotan in Williamsburg on Feb. 22.
Visitors to the pop-ups will be able to choose from a small sampling of the full restaurant menu, said Tong, including a Grandma's Chicken Rice Noodles — a noodle bowl with tender chicken confit with black sesame garlic sauce, chilis fermented in garlic and ginger, and house-made pickles.
Tong hopes her venture will help popularize rice noodle dishes — ramen is generally served with wheat noodles, she explained, and the rice noodles of China's Yunnan province haven't yet caught on in the city.
"It's a little bit special because it's rice noodles," she said. "When people think of noodles, it's usually wheat based — it's not so popular in New York yet, but it's old-school and very popular in China."
Tickets for each of the events, running at $20 for a bowl of noodles and an appetizer, can be bought here.