A pair of Per Se alums have opened New York’s next Siamese game-changer.
Nolita Thai newcomer Uncle Boons feels both familiar and exotic. Dark wood and ubiquitous vintage tchotchkes suggest some relative’s familiar living room, or maybe somebody’s basement rec room circa 1973. But look closely, and the details are Asian: the black-haired girl in the portrait, the wood carving of an ox and cart, the lamp shades made out of baskets. Sixties music bounces in the background, but wait: the words are in Thai.
Many dishes on the excellent menu are also both known and unknown. Lon Pu Kem, an addictive dip made of salted black crab with pork and coconut cream, served with vegetables, tastes, well, like a crab dip – if the crab went to Southeast Asia and brought home some ingredients. Other foods we know well: spare ribs (served with shrimp paste, green mango, shallots, and long beans), grilled octopus – here with chili dipping sauce and lime – and curries, of which Uncle Boons offers several, including the Northern Thai egg-noodle specialty khao soi.
Yum kai hu pli is a chicken salad we may not have met before: a melange of banana blossoms shredded into ribbons, studded with chicken chunks, and heavy on the cilantro and crispy fried shallots. Its balance of flavor and texture is spot-on. And it’s spicy – refreshing when many so-called Thai restaurants shy away from the cuisine’s natural heat.
Comparisons to another Thai-food game-changer that recently landed in New York, Pok Pok, are inevitable. Indeed, Uncle Boons is similar in style and price point and serves some of the Northeastern Thai dishes in which Pok Pok specializes. That’s good news, as it means Isaan cuisine, a very different way of cooking from the Thai rice-noodle dishes we know best, is at last making its way to menus here.
Owners Matt Danzer and Ann Redding first met while cooking at Per Se. Now they’re married and co-helming the kitchen here. Redding’s family is Thai, and the restaurant is named for her real-life Uncle Boon. So if you can’t put your finger on exactly whose living room you’re sitting in, maybe that answers the question.
7 Spring Street (Elizabeth & Bowery)