On a recent New York trip, during one of the coldest blizzards that I have ever endured I found myself enveloped in the heat Laotian-inspired Southeast Asian cuisine. After going through several multiple course iterations at Michelin star restaurants, I wanted to break it up a bit with something a little more rustic, but the cooking at Khe-Yo is serious, and the service exemplary.
Starting off with warm and friendly face, as well as a great explanation of the restaurants focus I which I really appreciated we were brought a slightly steaming small basket. Inside was aromatic long grain rice nestled inside some bamboo leaves.
Designed for scooping with hands, this glutinous but dry rice left me with the sensation of snorting cocaine when dipped into the highly addictive bang-bang sauce. A condiment of fresh red chilies and cilantro pounded in a mortar with lime juice and fish sauce. I thought there might be some sesame and/or some soy sauce as well. This was an intriguing flavor that cleared the nostrils immediately with a kick to the tip of the tongue followed by a mild yet potent heat. I ate my weight in this rice.
Our next course was a bamboo grilled ginger quail with the same bang-bang sauce and Chinese broccoli (Gai-Lin). Well-seasoned with nice charcoal char and juicy flesh, this dish was a great start. This meal was starting to feel very primal with the ripping of flesh from sticks and eating by hand, something very comforting in light of the blight outside the door.
I couldn’t resist the Creekstone Farms Sesame Beef Jerky, which was accompanied by a thick paste of assorted dried smoked chilies pounded with galangal and some English breakfast radishes. Simple and delicious with great chew and a slight background sweetness which I thought might be kecap manis, an Indonesian sweet soy sauce. I thought the jerky was great on it’s own; I ended up eating most of eating the paste with the rice. The cuisine here was starting to remind me of Chef Sang Yoon, of Lukshon. Clinical preparation of rustic cuisine with precise application of flavors.
The bone marrow was a thing of beauty; often I get annoyed when I see bone marrow served overcooked – lacking the fatty nectar which has melted away from uneven application of heat, yet here it was done perfectly. A visual salad of citrus, mint, red onion, and scallions adorned the prehistoric dish, finished with the addition of slightly crispy chips. Marvelous.
Lastly the Chili Prawns with ginger scallion toast and Thai basil.
The presentation was given a great deal of thought here but the broth here was the true star. The uniformity of the small dice on the scallions, as well as the ice water curled garnishing here let me know that a chef with some training was certainly at the helm here [Chef Marc Forgione]. I also really liked creative plate usage here, as well as on almost every dish, something lauded restaurants like Night + Market miss the completely.
The coffee service proved a bit finicky, a Southeast Asian styled pour over at the table system with the accoutrement of sweetened condensed milk and ice should I need it. Our server acknowledged that the system was kind of wonky, but the taste was rich and reviving.
At the start of the meal I probably downed at least 3 servings of the “Lao Lao”, a pineapple infused cognac – a recipe from the Chef’s Family [ Executive Chef, Soulayphet Schwader ]. This was one of the most interesting spirits I have tasted and was truly delicious.
The quick meal at Khe-Yo was one of my favorites of my recent NYC trip. They kept the hot rice baskets coming out without asking, and gave us a great deal of attention. The food was excellent – I am eager to return to try the all French wine list and more of the cocktails, as well as the rest of the menu.