The buzz: Amoy Street has had an avalanche of new neighbors in 2016, and we're pleased that one of them is Spa Esprit Group's oft-underrated contemporary Southeast Asian restaurant Ding Dong (previously on Ann Siang), with the same, solid dishes by chef Jet Lo, a fun new cocktail menu and, perhaps most excitingly, a new space and decor that are a vast improvement on the previous. It's getting a lot of love from the office crowd, both at lunchtime and at night, and it's easy to see why.
The vibe: While the Ann Siang space was cute, it was dark and cramped with narrow rooms and its split levels. The new space on the other hand, especially at lunch, is an instant mood lifter: a long, wide, sun-drenched room with high ceilings, an open kitchen and riotous colors in the form of retro Asian movie posters that cover the walls and bold, floral upholstery on the booths. Eating here feels hip, relaxed and discerning at the same time.
The food: Though it has a few misses, the menu overall is good: comforting, with occasional inventive delights and packing the big flavors that make Ding Dong a more-than-one-visit kind of place. Also, underappreciated fact: no main dish touches the $30 mark. Lo borrows from Southeast Asian flavor profiles to create dishes that are sometimes reiminiscent of original classics but also sometimes unlike anything else you have probably had. The meaty-and-firm hamachi sashimi more than holds its own when served Thai-style, atop a betel leaf and topped with Thai sambal, red onion and picked mango salad ($18). We also like the fried quail, served with a Thai basil stir fry-inspired dark sauce and topped with crispy leaves and garlic ($19). Not all dishes deliver the same thrills, though. You can pass on stuff like the Vietnamese-inspired Thai rice noodle roll with pork ($17) and the kueh pie ti-inspired Hokkaido scallop tartare ($19), which has way too much going on for us to appreciate the seafood.
The drinks: The refreshed signature cocktail list delivers tropical flavors without making a big to-do about it, and no drink is over $20. We like the light and interesting Astroboy ($20), with vodka, green tea umeshu, lime and most heavier complexity coming from port and Peychaud bitters. Also try the Hawker ($20), which comes in a cute Chinese tea cup and is a mix of gin, amaro montenegro, hawberry, lime and eggwhite.
Why you'll be back: While some dishes do fall flat, there are plenty of gems to discover. The lunchtime vibe is great, and on the drinks front, it has one of the more affordable cocktail lists on Amoy Street.