A heavenly take on fine Chinese dining

The culinary scene in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, is rich with restaurants that cater to the luxury lifestyle on offer here. Award-winning eateries, globally inspired and locally loved, own the Avenue, tempting diners with myriad menus created by master chefs who please the palate with passion, pride and personal innovation. Chief among them are Chef Steven Chen and K Dong, the visionary masterminds behind the ever-popular Miku Sushi and Hinoki. These Asian Fusion gems have made Japanese sushi, sake, and their signature seasonal small plate sensations, along with caviar bumps and smokin’ hot Negronis, coveted staples for the town’s dining out set since they first opened their doors in 2019 and 2021 respectively.

In Japan, food is given a lot of thought and is treated with the highest respect, as it is at both Hinoki and Miku Sushi, where traditional Japanese cuisine is innovatively transformed through a distinctive modern-day lens. Now Dong and Chen have set their sights on Shanghai, turning back time to the 1940s in the process, and turning any preconceived take-aways about Chinese restaurants to a whole new level of haut cuisine at MŌLÌ.

They set up shop on Greenwich Avenue in the former Putnam Trust bank building, a town landmark that has exuded a sense of community since 1915. There’s an air of quiet exclusivity inside this storied place, one that makes MŌLÌ all the more irresistible to locals and newcomers alike. We sat ensconced in a balconied upstairs enclave, intimately framed by luxurious silk curtains overlooking the first-floor dining room. The ambiance, inspired by seductive Shanghai speakeasys circa the 1940s, suggests a way of life synonymous with the white-linen dining delights of days past. The décor is unexpectedly glamorous with elaborate murals, tiled arches by Rafael Guastavino of Grand Central Station and Ellis Island fame, a magnificent crystal chandelier and a striking floral arrangement created with its namesake jasmine tree flowers, moli.

Jasmine is the symbol of eternal jov, community and hospitality in Chinese culture. For some, the powerful scent of jasmine induces feelings of euphoria. Because of its uplifting nature, its meaning also includes inspiration. Jasmine plants are prolific in the way they bloom, a symbolic reminder that starting with a simple idea or a single step can lead to creating or experiencing something profoundly meaningful. Additionally, in China, jasmine tea is traditionally served in homes to welcome guests and to celebrate new beginnings. All of which is synchronistically infused in the setting, service and sumptuous fare at MŌLÌ.

The menu is inspired by Szechuan-style cuisine, with an international twist. Executive Chef Tin Huynh, Vietnam-born and China-raised, infuses Latin and European techniques into his tantalizing dishes for an elevated take on contemporary Chinese cuisine. Huynh honed his exemplary culinary skills at several top Michelin star restaurants and popular hot spots in New York and Miami, before joining the team at MŌLÌ, and his impressive expertise flavors every bite.

For starters, there is nothing quite like his Rainbow Soup Dumplings, a quartet of colorful bao buns, steamed and seasoned with pork, shrimp, squash, and truffle mushroom to yield a bite-sized taste of traditional Szechuan cooking that literally “shanghais” your taste buds. There is a proper way to eat dumplings and our server showed us the secret to spooning and poking them perfectly. Steamed soup dumplings are among the most famous of the Shanghai foods that wowed celebrities and well-heeled travelers to this exotic destination in its historic heyday and they’re still attracting luminaries today at MŌLÌ, including superstar, singer and songwriter Mariah Carey who was spotted here in August.

Peking Duck has been the centerpiece of authentic Chinese cooking for hundreds of years and is said to have originated during the 13th-century in Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. It is a time-honored dish that requires a skilled chef who not only roasts it to perfection, but carves it with skills equally razor sharp. We savored it as it is meant to be enjoyed, as a culinary art, slowly and reverently, sliced and delicately seasoned, skin deep and delicious, thoughtfully wrapped in a wonton shell drizzled with plum sauce.

Often referred to as “the dragon of the sea,” lobster is a symbol of strength and good fortune in China. If you have the good fortune to sample MŌLÌ’s Typhoon Whole Lobster, lightly tempura-ed with wok-tossed fried garlic and scallions, prepare to be blown away by its richly rewarding flavors.

Maitake mushrooms grow wild in parts of China and have been used in Asian cooking for thousands of years. Ancient Chinese texts refer to the mushroom as an elixir of immortality, and it has long been used as a talisman of luck, healing, and wellness in Chinese culture. It has only gained popularity in the United States over the last twenty years, turning up in recipes like MŌLÌ’S Grilled Maitake Mushroom that not only tastes great, it’s apparently great for you too, a win-win wellness dish that was a big hit at our table.

I’m not a big fan of beets, and was surprised to see Heirloom Beet Salad, on the menu. I was game to try it though, honestly expecting my no-thank-you bite to be an unpleasant one. Here’s where I elevated the chef’s cooking talents to magician status. The beets were divine, with a texture and taste I had not associated with this often dirt-flavored root vegetable before. I discovered that when they are prepared at MŌLÌ, Yuzu soy marinated with watercress and almond purée, they are naturally sweet, and candy-delicious.

Similarly delectable was the chef’s Crispy Eggplant, expertly fried and glazed with caramel, fried garlic and scallions to tantalize an army of admiring taste buds, and his Satay Wagyu, mini melt-in-your-mouth marinated beef skewers, exquisitely seasoned and sauced as you wish. Kung Pao Chicken is a classic Sichuan dish that originated in southwestern China in the 1800s. MŌLÌ romances its chicken with dried chilis and peanuts for a spicy, must-try take on what has become a modern-day staple in Western-style Chinese cooking and a popular entrée here.

There’s more to the menu, of course, just waiting to be discovered and dutifully devoured, but we wanted to save room for dessert. MŌLÌ’s signature Tiramisu, topped with gourmet shaved chocolate and served in a delicate china teacup, and Passion Fruit Mousse, were both appropriately cloud light and heavenly, for an ethereal ending to an incredible meal.

Did I mention our drinks, including the grande dame of sommelier-suggested champagne and exquisite French wine, along with amazing mocktail and cocktail creations that deserve not only a special mention here in Venü but a separate story all their own? MŌLÌ holds the unique distinction of being both a fine dining venue and a glamorous cocktail lounge all in one. When the lights are dimmed and the velvet drapes come down between the two distinct spaces, the night life begins in earnest at MŌLÌ for the in-the-know crowd. We’ll be drinking in the cocktail scene with sommelier Isiah Levy and beverage director, mixologist extraordinaire Anthony Carrera this fall and invite you to join us in the next issue as we toast and taste the night away.

About MŌLÌ

Opened in June, 2023, by Restaurateur K Dong and business partner Chef Steven Chen, MŌLÌ is located 253 Greenwich Avenue, in Greenwich, Connecticut and is their third Connecticut-based restaurant and first speakeasy style bar concept. The team also owns the award-winning KUMO Sushi Lounge in Scarsdale, New York, and Blu Sushi Bar at Blu on the Hudson in Weehawken, New Jersey which opened in December 2022. Reservations are available online (moligreenwich.com). The restaurant is open 7 days a week. Follow along on social and join the email list for up-to-date news (@moligreenwich) and (@barmoligreenwich). ☐

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COVER STORY: Alexander Klingspor — Also featuring: Gary Player, Victoria Yakusha, Heather Gaudio Fine Art, Kelly Killoren Bensiman, Pologeorgis, Onare Greenwich, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Berenberg Invitational, Tommy Utah, Alexandre Durandy de Naurois Turgot, WineaPAWlooza, Diana Skavronskaya, Vail and Telluride, Colorado, Oneworld Ayurveda, Napa, Sonoma, California, and much more…