P*ONG is a sexy, experimental idea factory devoted to the cult of idiosyncratic desserts, small-plate food and cocktails -- although not one dish or drink is anything youâd want to try at home. Consider the potent rhubarb caipirinha shaken up with cachaÃ§a, housemade rhubarb juice and precious first-harvest Japanese wasanbon sugar (a clue to why it costs $14). Or the shrimp and mango ceviche vibrantly spiked with Thai chili, cilantro and cachaÃ§a-lemongrass mist ($12). Pichet Ong, the former pastry chef at Spice Market, among other hotspots, is the owner and resident wizard at this sleek, pocket-sized West Village boÃ®te. He and his crackerjack team are on view behind the bar, meticulously assembling (not cooking -- there is no stove) their curiously delectable combinations. Sweet Maine crab fuses beautifully with lemon, tarragon, chives and green-apple mousse ($15). If you have to make a choice between the walnut-crusted Stilton soufflÃ© with basil-arugula ice cream ($14) and chevre cheesecake croquette with walnut, pineapple and chocolate-coffee fudge ($10), go for the latter. There is a fine line between appetizers and dessert here, with pinches of artisanal salt sharpening flavors in each category. On meats and fish youâll taste smoked, bacon-y volcanic salt from Japan. On desserts like the fabulous malted chocolate tart with caramelized banana and Ovaltine ice cream ($12), youâll feel the crunch of flaky English Maldon sea salt. Grazing is taken to a new level here, but it doesnât come cheaply. 150 W. 10th St., (212) 929-0898.
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