I never had Laotian food before and admit that I was thrilled to try Khe-Yo when I heard that acclaimed Chef Marc Forgione was associated to the restaurant. Yes, Khe-Yo is the result of the association of a terrific triumvirate, the main character being Chef Soulayphet Schwader whose family escaped from Laos in 1975, after the communists came into power. Years later, not being able to find good Laotian food in the city, he and his partner Nick Bradley joined Chef Marc Forgione and opened few months ago a Laotian inspired restaurant in the thriving TriBeCa area. Of course, as I never tried Laotian food before, I cannot comment on the authenticity, but, anyway, they never presented their restaurant as authentic Laotian; more Laotian inspired, bringing to the table Southeast Asian cuisine, with for instance some flavors resembling Thai cuisine or some dishes Korean ones as you will see below.
We went there on a Friday night, after an open studio night at the New York Academy of Art. Fortunately we had a reservation, because this place was packed from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.
I am not sure if they had staff issues, but the service not what I would have expected and, honestly, we just wanted to leave at some point. Not that the food was not good (it was delicious), but the noise level was very, very high, making it difficult to hear each other. So my advice: no romantic dinner or date there, except if you want to make sure you do not hear what the other person says...
There, no bread and butter, but rather sticky rice with a crushed eggplant sauce that was very smooth and a bit smokey, and with a Thai chili sauce fairly hot called "the bang bang" sauce, in a way reflecting the sound my foot made banging on the floor expressing how spicy this was.
Although they say on the menu that "sticky rice tastes better when eaten with your hands", I ate it with the sole utensil present on tables: a spoon. Yes, because some of the dishes are made to be eaten with your hands; for others, they will bring you what you need, such as chopsticks. But, to make sure you have clean hands before dinner, like a good little boy or girl, they bring you a wet towel as soon as you order.
Menu wise, this is of course not your usual dishes or ingredients: mainly meats, few seafood and, unfortunately only one vegetarian entree, it features animals like quail or poussin.
We decided to try few appetizers. The first one was Ping-Sai-Ua-Moo or grilled Laos style sausage.
It was a nice presentation and, in fact, all the dishes were well plated and looked appetizing. On one side of the sausage was a mango and peanut sauce (the peanut taste was predominant) and on the other side some lettuce. Although the way to eat it was not explained by the staff, I understood (hopefully) right away that I had to eat it like Korean BBQ, putting a slice of sausage on top of a leaf and add some sauce.
It was delicious: the lettuce adding a bit of crunch to a sweet and savory combination that was delightful. The sausage had a nice char adding more flavor to the dish.
The second appetizer was Nam-Khao or kaffir lime sausage with crunchy coconut rice.
To simplify the description, it was like rice balls, but made with coconut rice, crunchy on the outside from being fried and very slightly softer on the inside. It was perfect with or without the sausage that was a bit spicy.
For the entrees, Jodi ordered the Khoua-Lhon or wok-fried glass noodles.
At that point, they brought her chopsticks. It had a nice amount snow peas and sugar snaps in it. Although delicious, I found this dish a bit disappointing, as not original or standing out.
On my side, I ordered the Goong-Phet or chili prawns:
It was composed of ginger scallion toast and Thai basil sauce. This was a succulent dish, delightfully tasty. The prawns were quite big and perfectly cooked, bathed in a sauce that was slightly spicy, the heat slowly building up in the back of my throat. The toast was good, but I thought that there was too much of it and replaced it with sticky rice at some point.
To go with our meal, I ordered a Laotian beer that was perfect:
The food definitely met my expectations: creative and sublime, although I was surprised to see that they only offered ice cream (coconut or salted caramel) for dessert, making us feel the meal was incomplete. The only negative there was the noise level that made this experience less pleasant than it should. Next time I will bring my noise canceling headsets...
Enjoy (I did - what did you say?)!
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And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!