Chinese gets an update

Nouvelle restaurant Wuji gives you a reason to leave home for Chinese. With beautifully presented food, modern décor and signature dishes, this growing restaurant group updates the classic go-to takeout option.

Wuji is a new “farm-to-wok” concept with locations in Rye on Purchase Street and Scarsdale on Chase Road, another restaurant in Greenwich slated to open later this year on Putnam Avenue and others in the works in both counties. The restaurant offers health-conscious food made-to-order and served in a modern setting that incorporates Chinese elements — paper umbrellas, statues and lanterns — seamlessly and cleverly into the design.

I got my first taste of Wuji at the Scarsdale location’s menu sampling in September. From the charming red delivery bikes outside (Rye has one, too) to the serene interior, I was impressed. Standouts were the doughy pork buns, tender spare ribs, mu-shu Peking duck and dumplings served in a bamboo basket. That night, owner and Wuji co-creator Jody Pennette told me he didn’t bother with basics like chicken and broccoli on the menu, because they have no “mojo.” Dishes are made to appeal to the modern palate of Chinese food fans.

The opening of the Rye restaurant in December was a great excuse to experience more of the Wuji magic. The striking interior was more romantic and sleek in tone than Scarsdale’s earthy color scheme. Rye’s location resembles a buzzy art exhibit with its dark wood, soft lighting, large Buddha prints on the wall and oversized urns, plus a well-dressed staff.

On a recent Friday night, everyone wanted a ticket.  The wooden tables set with small, dimpled black pebbles and the bar, sectioned by a concave wall, were filled with couples, families and small groups of adults and a few teens. I even spotted Pennette walking around, greeting guests and delivering a few plates.

Wuji’s popularity meant we had to wait despite having a reservation, but the staff directed us to the bar, kept us updated on when we’d sit and readily apologized. This meant I got to try a blood orange Mojito and a few sips of a Mai Tai. At Wuji Scarsdale, I thought the cocktails were too sweet, but this time they were just right.

Once seated, our affable waiter explained the restaurant’s concept and recommended we choose a few dishes to share. Although I was craving pork buns again, I chose different items this time around.

We started with the fresh crab rangoon, which, to my delight, was shaped like tulips. The tangy bites met their claim of tasting fresh and were complemented by the sweet and spicy Mandarin sauce.

Alongside this, we ate the chicken peanut spring rolls, which were wrapped in a fried shell like an egg roll rather than a thin wrapper. While I liked the concept, the rolls were dense and lacked a distinct flavor and would have tasted better and been truer to Wuji’s healthy theme if they had a lighter casing.

The tangerine beef — Wuji’s sophisticated take on General Tso’s chicken (which is absent from the menu) — had a tangy citrus kick. I would have preferred if it were not fried, but at least the coating gave the beef a nice crunch on the outside, and Wuji uses grass-fed beef.

Another dressed-up classic was the Shanghai noodles, a heaping bowl of lo mein with ginger sesame sauce. I typically avoid lo mein because it’s one of those foods that gives you what Wuji calls an “MSG hangover,” yet this version of lo mein was not only “safe,” but complex and rich with thick noodles and a generous amount of vegetables and pork.

A mild Chinese beer topped off the meal perfectly.

Now my only problem is that a simple chicken and broccoli, whether eaten from a ceramic plate or a paper box, will no longer be as satisfying. Wuji has raised my standards. Lucky for me, the restaurant group is growing — and does takeout.

For more, visit wujirestaurant.com.

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