Category: New York Restaurant Reviews

Khe-Yo

157 Duane Street between West Broadway and Hudson Streets
about $200 for 3 people, with drinks, without tip
212/587.1089
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What is Laotian food? I actually have no idea even after spending a week in Luang Prabang a couple of years ago. What I got from that trip, food-wise, was the same delicious flavors I crave in Vietnamese and Thai cuisines: fish sauce, Thai chiles, galangal, mint, and kaffir lime. Khe-Yo calls itself a Laotian-inspired restaurant but they should just really say they serve Southeast Asian-inspired food and drinks because they go beyond the larb.

Their different kinds of larb, or laab, the national dish of Laos, were all excellent. It is traditionally any meat minced and served with fish sauce, lime juice, chiles, and mint. We couldn’t help but order second rounds of the fluke and the skirt steak appetizers even though we had a whole mess of food still coming. We were shameless when we ordered two rounds of the crunchy coconut rice with kaffir lime-flavored sausages, dunked them in the fish sauce-chile dip from the larb dishes, and then wrapped each bite with a different order of sticky rice.

The braised pork belly would have been more excellent if I still had room in my stomach. I appreciated that it came with boiled mustard greens and turnips in broth; both tamed our salty and spicy tongues. I couldn’t resist the grilled sea bass even though it came with a thick peanut sauce that I’m not usually a fan of. I encouraged my dining partners to enjoy each bite in the same fish sauce-chile dip that we kept re-ordering. The pork curry noodles stood out because it was the only curried dish we ordered. Our waiter couldn’t identify the white stuff that was floating in our bowls. It had the texture of soft tofu and scrambled egg whites but I didn’t think it was banana flower. I could have skipped it if I thought about ordering more sausages first.

The dishes at Khe-Yo are meant to be shared and eaten family-style. This is what we (over)did between 3 people and we all came out of there full and very satisfied. The service was attentive even though we felt like we didn’t really need too much attention because we were continuously eating our food and drinking our Lao beers. It got a little warm in there and I knew it wasn’t just the spice; it was the good company, too.

Uncle Boons

7 Spring Street between Elizabeth and Bowery
$216 for 2 people, with a lot of drinks, with tip
646/370.6650
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What?! I can’t hear you!, was my reply to our waiter when he tried to tell us that squeezing some lime juice on our food will make them taste better.

The truth of the matter is that I am getting too old for loud restaurants. I couldn’t even decipher what music they were playing because it was so loud inside with all the chatter. I’m all for chatter and activity in some restaurants but it becomes a problem when I have to scream to make conversation with my friends. It becomes a problem when the most quiet place you can go to is the bathroom. There’s music in there, too! Are we still in SoHo or did we move to the Meatpacking District in between courses?

But speaking of courses, the food was quite tasty. I appreciate that there’s finally Thai food in Manhattan that’s spicy enough to call Thai. One of my pet peeves is when restaurants do not give their diners enough credit and tone down the spiciness of their food. We like to eat! We can take spiciness, you know? The lines to get in Mission Chinese Food and Pok Pok New York should be telling enough. When I want Thai food, I don’t want the Chinese version of Thai food. I want to be reminded of the street food I had in Bangkok and the hawker stall food I had in Singapore. And when I want Thai food, I don’t want to have to go to Queens to get it.

I liked the dip made of smoked catfish and pork that came with French breakfast radishes, sweet peas, and Thai eggplants. To some people, it might be weird to have sliced raw vegetables on a plate without the greens, but it was a good palate cleanser in between the monkfish “cheeks” with noodles in ginger sauce and the grilled sausage and octopus.

Oh, that octopus; I could eat 20 more of those little suckers! I would have been happy to try more of their offerings, but our 2 main courses were as large as the appetizers were tiny. I wished we were able to order the mains in smaller portions as to not miss out, but I suppose I’ll just have to make a return trip–with earplugs on.

Umami Burger New York City

432 6th Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets
$68 for 3 people, with drinks, without tip
212/677.8626
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I’ve tasted an Umami burger in Los Angeles before but the craziness that surrounded its New York opening sent me on a Citibike to check it out. Jase, Dash, Harry and I put our names down around 6:45pm. We went in to try and get drinks inside but because they have reached their room capacity, they didn’t let any more people in which I actually liked because then people are not screaming at your ear at the bar or hovering over you while you eat your burger.

We opted to walk down the block instead to take advantage of Happy Hour drinks and oysters for the next three hours. The crowd that was milling around in front of Umami died down then and we were seated as soon as the next table for 4 cleared. We wondered if the staff was also shipped from California because they were so nice even after they’ve had to deal with the crowd since they opened at 11am.

Our waitress gave us the speech about how Umami is different from other burgers because of science–the meat grounded in-house and the Portuguese-style bun–but all we wanted to do was order and eat! (None of those were scientific to me by the way.) We ended up ordering four different kinds to taste as much as we can: the original Umami with shiitake mushroom and Parmesan crisp, the Truffle burger, the Manly with beer-cheddar cheese and bacon lardon, plus the duck special. They were all good but it starts to get difficult to tell them apart when you’ve been holding out for 3 hours. The truffle and Parmesan flavor from the 2 burgers stood out, but everything else melded and tasted like, oh hey, regular (but juicy) burgers!

Skip the duck with peach-apple chutney (above) though. The chutney was a tad too sweet and just wasn’t burger material to me. The caramelized fennel and “Madagascar pepper” just seemed too silly: it’s California trying to fit in New York City. We New Yorkers are pretentious, but we’re not that pretentious! The beet salad is surprisingly good, a nice respite from all the meat. Don’t miss the fries and tots as sides but feel free to skip the special sauces to get more of the unadulterated meat taste of the burgers.

So was Umami worth the 3-hour wait? Of course not; nothing ever is. But go and be nice to our California friends and show them what New Yorkers are made of: we’re there because it’s the place to be at the moment.

Ippudo Westside

321 West 51st Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
$115 for 2 people, with drinks, with tip
212/974.2500
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Ippudo without the wait? You don’t say! We stopped by the new Ippudo in Hell’s Kitchen during their soft opening week and were whisked upstairs to sit in front of the still-unused kitchen covered in subway tiles. The space will remind you more of Momofuku rather than Ippudo East Village because it’s brighter and lighter inside.

It was quite hot outside, so we decided to nosh on appetizers and try as many dishes as we could and just split a bowl of ramen for our main course. The Hirata steamed buns filled with eggplant and eringi mushrooms were really good. I loved the subtle crunch from the tempura (or was it panko?). The beer-battered fried chicken came with blistered shishito peppers and were probably the best appetizer on the menu. We weren’t as thrilled with the zucchini-potato dish because they were unexciting compared to their other tastier options.

For our ramen, we opted for the Shiromaru Hakata Classic, a tonkotsu soup noodle with pork loin chashu and sesame kikurage mushrooms, plus additional toppings of mustard leaves and pork belly. True to Ippudo style, the noodles were cooked perfectly: tender and just the right amount of bite and chew; the broth so satisfyingly rich and full.

Don’t wait until it gets cooler outside to make your trip uptown. You’ll be waiting in line soon!

Costata

206 Spring Street between Sixth Avenue and Sullivan Street
$155 for 2 people, with drinks, with tip
212/334.3320
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Matt wanted to buy me dinner while he was in town, so naturally I dragged him to the newest Michael White restaurant I can’t afford. It was 10pm and I was a bit worried that they wouldn’t let us in because kitchens usually close at that time. We walked in and they sat us right away. Our cocktails were pretty amazing and because we skipped on the steak (next time someone else wants to pay for dinner, promise!), the food came pretty fast.

While we waited, they brought out the fresh bread with this little guy on the table: lard in olive oil. It’s a heart attack-inducing treat that we couldn’t stop eating.

My favorite were the crudo razor clams marinated with fennel and small pieces of soppressata. At $22 for 3 pieces though, they’re hard to swallow. I would gladly eat 10 more of them if I can afford them.

The casarecci pasta al nero was to die for. I’ve had squid ink pasta before, but they’ve usually been spaghetti with the squid ink in the sauce. These look like cute little leeches–sorry to say–served with shrimp and cuttlefish with a wonderful chile kick. I’m still dreaming about this dish.

And as if we weren’t full enough, we couldn’t help but order my favorite pasta, the cavatelli, smothered in a super-rich braised oxtail stew. If I could coddle a bowl of this during rainy days with a bold glass of red wine, I would be a happy human being.

Michael White restaurants never disappoint when you want really refined Italian food. Go when you’re on someone else’s tab or celebrating a milestone because it’s definitely pricey for just a regular weeknight.