Mister Mao, the highly-anticipated restaurant from Chef Sophina Uong and husband/partner William “Wildcat” Greenwell opened to the public in New Orleans’ Uptown neighborhood in late July 2021. With a bar and lounge seating 25; a vibrant and lively dining room; and an interactive Chef’s Counter, Mister Mao is quickly becoming the city’s go-to perch to gather with friends and family for an evening filled with creative, “inauthentic” food and killer cocktails.
According to Uong, “Wildcat and I are so excited to welcome our guests and let them experience first-hand everything I love about cooking – the ability to celebrate being together, experimenting with flavors and ingredients from around the world, and finally getting to savor it all.”
Mister Mao serves as Uong’s canvas – a place where the Cambodian-American Chef artistically melds her expertise in collaborative cooking tradition from across the globe with her creative dissection of the Southern plate. After fleeing with her family as a toddler, from war-torn Cambodia, finding refuge in Long Beach, California, the self-taught chef grew up surrounded by families and friends of all backgrounds and spent her time in kitchens, watching as mothers cooked traditional American suppers with delicious pot roast and abuelas made tortillas and stewed Mexican guisados. Since then, Uong has worked in some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most acclaimed restaurants including Waterbar, Revival Bar + Kitchen, Calavera, and Absinthe Brasserie. In 2016, Uong was named Food Network’s Chopped “Grill Master Napa Champion” and soon after, was tapped to manage Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Cricket restaurant in Minneapolis.
At Mister Mao, Uong serves up a static menu of eclectic globally-inspired cuisine, along with an ever-changing selection of small plates served from roving carts. The whimsically-themed menu categories begin with Drinking Snacks such as Deviled Almonds & Plantain Chaat – an aromatic Indian riff on bar nuts; Banchan Mao – tiny bites of fruit pickles, lacto ferments of imperfect produce, dried shrimp mochi, and more; and Scallion Bread served with smoked aubergines, saba, and ginger for dipping.
From there, diners can pick from Foods We Love to Share and those You Don’t Have to Share with untraditional takes on traditional dishes. Shareable plates include Escargot Wellingtons – snails en croute with preserved lemon, garlic butter, horseradish, and powdered greens; gluten-free Onion Bhaji with a vegetable-buttermilk dip; and Alabama Corn Pudding topped with Two Dog Farm tomatoes, cucumber, torpedo onions, sumac, and pickled corn, along with a North African inspired herb jam. Main plates include Niman Ranch Pork Shanks – pork hind shanks dry-rubbed with ground Congregation Coffee beans and hickory smoked with Chochoyotes, Mawi Tortilla masa dumplings, Korean piperade and Raines Farm Wagyu Beef – smoked beef and slow-braised in beef fat and served with cumin smothered chickpeas, Covey Rise tomatillos and summer radishes. These Bring Us Joy + Hellfire Heartburn section is not for the faint of heart and includes spicy dishes such as Chilled Octopus Cocktail – habanero octopus aguachile with cerveza jelly, summer pickles and avocado and Pani Puri – Camellia red bean and potato masala stuffed into semolina puffs and finished tableside with fiery mint water. Three Dog Farm Kashmiri Fried Chicken with Black Salt and Pineapple Yogurt.
Aptly named Here Comes the Chuck Wagon, the roving carts at Mister Mao will change frequently, giving diners a cross section of a variety of tiny plates. Sample cart items include: Gunpowder Dumplings, pierogi style, with coconut, urad dal, and arbol chile; gluten-free Crispy Fluke with Kashmiri chile oil; Backwater Duck Confit, served dragon lady style with cucumber and Kashmiri chile oil; Bacalitos – salt cod fritters, lime, and Tabasco mash powder; and the Cannibal Sandwich – an elevated version of the famed Wisconsin specialty, featuring raw Louisiana Wagyu Beef mixed with rye, colatura, and torpedo onions.
After a sensational meal, diners can indulge in sweet treats by Pastry Chef Sarah Cotton, who has worked at renowned spots including Washington D.C.’s Slipstream, as well as Restaurant August and Shaya in New Orleans. Known for her boundless creativity and innovative techniques, Cotton injects Mister Mao’s signature sense of whimsy into each dessert with options including a Dark Chocolate Tart with black garlic, malty peanut brittle, coconut cream, and candied cocoa nibs; Falooda – Mountain View Orchard peach sherbet, vermicelli, basil seeds and jellies, and orange blossom milk; and the Lotus Blossom Cookies – crispy coconut, sesame seed and activated charcoal cookies.
Under the direction of co-owner William “Wildcat” Greenwell, the cocktail program at Naked Bill’s, Mister Mao’s quirky bar, is as playful and eclectic as the cuisine. Libations include Cathouse Spritz – a refreshing aperitif featuring Amaro Nonino, Campari and lime; Billion Dollar Betsy, a boozy riff on a piña colada with dark and overproof rum, allspice, pineapple, and orgeat tres leches; and John’s Secret Dragon Lady – a tiki-style cocktail with a bit of sweetness and saltiness featuring Malort, Benedictine, velvet falernum, orange, and saline. Guests can also enjoy an array of virgin cocktails including the Hibiscus Masala Lemonade and Coffee Science Shrub + Tonic and a small production-focused wine list curated by General Manager/Sommelier Roger Eyles formerly of Shaya, Meauxbar, and Sylvain, as well as local brews from Zony Mash Beer Project.
The 1,400 square feet restaurant and bar, situated in the former Dick & Jenny’s space, has been transformed into a tropical roadhouse with funky décor, bright colors, and ample seating options. Guests enter through the bar on Jena Avenue, where a cozy lounge and bar seating for 25 make for a perfect meet-up spot before a show at Tipitinas; a girls’ night out; or a relaxed date night.
Upon entering the dining room, diners will feel the bustling energy of the servers whizzing around with small plates. A Chef’s counter seating six provides up close and personal views of the open kitchen, while casual dining tables and chairs are strategically placed throughout the room. Pinks, Blues, and Greens are complemented by tropical plants and a hand-painted mural by New Orleans artist/designer Margie Tillman Ayres transports guests to a tropical jungle.
Mister Mao is located at 4501 Tchoupitoulas in New Orleans (entrance on Jena Street) and serves dinner Thursday – Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) from 5PM – 10PM. For reservations and further information please visit www.mistermaonola.com. Stay up to date on Instagram: @mistermaonola.