Growing up in a half-Thai household, chef Denise St. Onge has fond childhood memories of her mom cooking angel wings, a common dish in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia and Laos. To make them, she would meticulously debone chicken wings, careful not to puncture the skin — no small feat, St. Onge notes — then stuff them with a heady mixture of glass noodles and peppers before frying and enrobing them in a tamarind and sweet basil glaze. “I remember her making them on special occasions and telling me a good Thai chef should be able to make these,” St. Onge says. “It just always carried a mystique with me.”
These days St. Onge is executive chef at Sorella, an Italian restaurant on Polk that debuted in late 2021 from the team behind Michelin-starred Acquerello. In addition to the elegant dinner menu offering veal meatballs and a towering timballo stacked high with pasta and dry-aged beef, the restaurant also serves a bar menu of cicchetti, or Venetian small snacks. That’s where you’ll find St. Onge’s Calabrese sausage-stuffed chicken wing, a sticky, honey-glazed marvel presented on a stark-white rectangular plate. The single wing shines under a layer of Calabrian chile and honey glaze, with crisp brick-colored skin giving way to a spicy porcine filling. It’s both an homage to her mom’s angel wings, St. Onge says, and a way to give the menu an unexpected flavor boost.
“I think there’s maybe a misconception that Italian food is just not very spicy or maybe too simple,” St. Onge says. “So a lot of the perspective behind our menu ideation stems from unabashedly trying to find flavor.” And, she says, deboning the wing means diners don’t have to muss up their fingers or try to determine the proper etiquette around stacking up a pile of picked-over bones on the table.
But Sorella’s glazed and sausage-filled fried chicken wing isn’t alone in making a strong case for more chicken wings in unexpected settings. Some of San Francisco’s trendiest restaurants and chefs are laboriously deboning tiny avian wings just to stuff them with everything from local abalone to garlic-scented sticky rice — and in doing so, infuse a little bit of frivolity into high-end dining in the city. Still, creating the dish requires a high level of technical skill to both remove the small bones from a delicate chicken wing and then fill the empty space with edible material. In fact, the sheer level of effort required to produce them is part of what makes stuffed chicken wings an unlikely dish to pop up on multiple restaurant menus around San Francisco at once. But here they are.
At Good Good Culture Club, the Mission Dolores restaurant from Liholiho Yacht Club’s Ravi Kapur, the Good Good Chicken Wing has been a best-seller since day one, says chef Brett Shaw. He and chef Kevin Keovanpheng agree they came up with the idea before they formally started working on the new restaurant, and that the only reason they can keep the labor-intensive starter on the menu — especially considering the restaurant can run through up to 150 wings on a busy night — is thanks to the restaurant’s two butchers, Sebastian and Enrique (both declined to share their last names). “I cannot overemphasize the amount of work that goes into these wings,” says Shaw, whose inspiration for the Good Good Chicken Wings goes back to Den in Tokyo, where chef Zaiyu Hasegawa serves stuffed “Dentucky” fried chicken wings in a KFC-style box.
At Good Good, the dish starts with Mary’s organic chicken wings, which get sorted by size since only the largest specimens are usable for stuffing. Then, using a bird’s beak knife, the butchers remove the connective tissue holding the meat to the bones, allowing them to carefully wiggle free the skin and meat. Next they fill each wing with Koda Farms organic sticky rice, infused with “lots of garlic” thanks to a potent combo of garlic oil, crispy garlic, and garlic salt. After sealing the slit with a toothpick, the wings are battered in cornstarch and rice flour and double-fried, Korean-style, to order. Finally, a savory glaze made with tamari, vinegar, black pepper, and bay leaf is lacquered onto the wing. When all is said and done, it’s a two-to-three-day process, the chefs estimate, though the restaurant constantly has wings in some state of production.
Keovanpheng says the wings are a good representation of the kind of cross-cultural blending the restaurant aims to achieve; for him, they bring back memories of a dish he had at a Thai Lao restaurant in Oklahoma City. The wings have become one of the most-ordered items on the menu. “Things that you create, they take on a life of their own,” Shaw says.
Keovanpheng agrees. “I’m sure it’s going to be on the menu for a while, in different renditions.”
Chef Jonny Black, former executive chef at Atelier Crenn, put forth his own stuffed chicken wing during a spring pop-up at, a preview of the kind of playful but technically rigorous food diners will be able to expect at his upcoming Carmel restaurant Chez Noir. “I love classic cooking, I love classic French cooking but also I want people to come in and have it not be too stuffy,” Black says. “The nice thing about finally opening your own restaurant is there are no rules.”
Black says his double-fried wings, which had a craggy batter made with a two-to-one ratio of cornstarch and rice flour, riffed on abalone sausage fritters and brought a taste of Monterey County to the menu. He processed the wings slightly differently than the Good Good team, opting to brine his in a buttermilk blend before piping in that abalone sausage mixture made from pork and mollusks along with green garlic, white wine, coriander, and black pepper. The key to the dish’s success, he says, is the next step: swaddling each wing flat and tip in plastic wrap before steaming them, just enough to cook the meat and set the sausage. His batter combines vodka and flour, giving it a lighter, airy texture, a sharp contrast to the creamy and tangy green garlic ranch, which is drizzled on top.
“It’s very involved,” Black say, laughing. “But I think sometimes, coming up in fine dining, sometimes it’s just fun to do these dishes like this.”