We were really excited for a second when we hit Marc Forgione's new restaurant in Tribeca, Khe-Yo. At first, it seemed like this place was going to be our very own Little Serow, a much celebrated Northern Thai restaurant in Washington D.C. that is our undisputed favorite dining destination in that city. We've been aching for a spot like that in this town - something a bit more traditional and authentic than say, Kin Shop, but with the same ability to wow us with new and creative ways to present the flavors. Unfortunately, Khe-Yo only got us half way there. Which, if we're talking about D.C., would geographically be Delaware. So yes, Khe-Yo is Delaware.
Generally, we liked this restaurant. It's a nice place with nice people (as is Delaware), and we really loved a lot of the food that we ate, mostly in the first half of our meal. Which brings us to our overall point. Khe-Yo feels like something of a half measure. The beginning of this menu is everything we love about the food from Southeast Asia. It's shareable, full of flavor, and often best eaten with your hands. The Crunchy Coconut Rice and Duck Laap salad particularly blew our minds, and the Pork Belly and Shrimp Crispy Rolls didn't suck either. And then we got to the entrees. Maybe it's because Laotians don't really eat $33 plates of Black Bass, or maybe it's just that they haven't quite figured out the formula in the kitchen, but for some reason the entrees in this restaurant really run into problems. Our Pork Jowl Red Curry was so salty that it was inedible, and even if it wasn't, the pork jowl bits were more like rubbery little fat nuggets than they were delicious pig face meat. The same goes for our sodium-crusted Lemongrass Spare Ribs that we could barely finish due to concerns for our blood pressure. The Bell & Evans Grilled Half Chicken wasn't bad, though it also wasn't particularly remarkable, and the Chili Prawns were about on par with any above average shrimp dish in Chinatown. Thank god for sticky rice.
We're certainly not experts on this kind of cuisine, but our ultimate assessment of Khe-Yo is that they should have gone all the way. It feels like the chef felt compelled to create a menu of entree dishes to appease the locals, rather than fully committing to the idea of many small dishes to be shared at the table and eaten with glorious handfuls of glutinous rice. But who knows? Maybe a half measure is exactly what this Tribeca neighborhood wants. Maybe they're happy with a mere taste of these ethnic flavors, so long as they come packaged in a familiar dinner-time format. Either way, it looks like we're going to have to keep making trips to DC. Or maybe Laos. Is there a bus that goes there?
Lapp is basically a big pile of minced meat that's been fully loaded with delicious flavors, and then plated with lettuce so that they can call it a "salad." It is typically spicy as hell, and almost always delicious. Khe-Yo has three laap salads on the menu, and this chicken version was very good, but not our favorite. Which brings us to...
This laap salad consists of duck tongue, sliced duck breast, some Vietnamese mint and lemongrass. The duck tongues were really good, and surprisingly did not make us imagine mouth kissing a small bird. Order this.
Incredibly tasty rice balls that have been topped with thin discs of Kaffir lime sausage. This might be the best dish on the menu here.
I'm not sure what you need me to say about this other than that it's basically a pork belly and shrimp spring roll. Proceed, unless you're Kosher.
A few jumbo prawns in a sweet and spicy chili sauce. The shrimp were fine, but our favorite part of this plate was the big slices of ginger scallion toast provided for dipping purposes. On second thought, this dish should probably just be called Chili Toast.
This entree either needs a full overhaul or it needs to come off the menu. It's basically a bowl of curry broth that's been so over-salted that it burns your tongue, and floating inside of that red curry death brine are many chunks of tough, fatty pork jowl. You don't want this unless you're planning to use it to cure some meat later.
Another salty disaster. And seasoning aside, we didn't find these ribs to be much more than a hassle.
Restaurant chicken to the rescue. This was the best entree we tried, by a long shot. Probably because it wasn't seasoned to death. If you must eat something from the large plate section, this is your jam.