Tribeca’s hottest new restaurant feels very much of the neighborhood – it has the brick walls, wooden floors, and spare chicness of many eateries below Canal Street – yet you know things are different when you sit down and the waiter presents not bread, but a straw basket of sticky rice with several sauces. Welcome to Khe-Yo, a Laotian-themed restaurant from chef-restaurateur (and Iron Chef winner) Marc Forgione, who teamed with longtime collaborator Phet Schwader, a Laos native, for his latest project.
The food of this narrow country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam is probably new to most New Yorkers. Yet over the past few years, diners have enthusiastically embraced lesser-known Asian cuisines, including Northern Thai at Pok Pok and Uncle Boons, and Southwestern Chinese at Yunnan Kitchen. With executive chef Schwader’s refined, Greenmarket-driven preparations, Laotion is already proving a hit.
Take the sticky rice: It’s meant to be eaten with the hands, alone with the housemade sauces or as a way to scoop up (and quell the spiciness) of other dishes. Should you request it – and we recommend you do – your basket will be continually replenished throughout the meal. We liked the rice with Khe-Yo’s Creekstone Farms beef jerky: simply grab a piece, tear off a chunk of the flavorful partially dried beef, and dip the whole thing in accompanying chili sauce before popping it in your mouth.
Another must-have appetizer is crunchy coconut rice balls. The fried orbs are meant to be smashed and mixed, salad-style, with the dish’s kaffir-lime-flavored sausage, then scooped up inside a baby iceberg leaf as a sort of DIY lettuce wrap. Flavored with lemongrass, lime, and chili, it’s a taste that sticks in the memory, inspiring cravings not long after you’ve finished your meal.
Chili prawns prove a riff on the beloved Singaporean dish of chili crab, and while the succulent head-on prawns were done perfectly on a recent visit, it was the sauce we couldn’t get enough of: a thick, creamy chili concoction that made an ideal dip for the accompanying toast, not to mention more sticky rice. Berkshire spare ribs in a lemongrass glaze also hit the spot, though the spicy long-bean salad that came on the side was even more of a highlight.
Because of the emphasis on using seasonal vegetables, the menu will change throughout the year. The team will introduce a takeout counter dubbed Khe-Yosk shortly, where on-the-go Tribeca diners will find menu items like banh mi (Vietnamese-style sandwiches served on baguette bread) to go. For now, we’d recommend getting to Khe-Yo for dinner before word travels beyond the city’s Asian-food obsessed, and a table here becomes a hotter commodity than Khe-Yo’s house chili sauce.
157 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013
(Interior photos by Paul Wagtouicz, food photos by Noah Fecks)