Pig & Khao is a raucous space in the Lower East Side, run by Chef Leah Cohen (of Top Chef fame, but also of Southeast Asian descent, who took a year-long madness-escaping, idea-searching culinary getaway-slash-hands-on-learning-project through some of her familial homelands). She was ably manning the passe when we visited.
The restaurant is a little cramped, given the LES crowds, so reserve in advance or go early. With its bare-bones wooden plank tables and a funky jungle green splashed the length of its walls, if the intention is visually strike a tone of irreverence and quirk, then I’d call it a success. And that vibe certainly sets you up for a meal that comes strong with the funk: decidedly Asian (particularly Southeast Asian, and specifically Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino), but in a fairly mishmash array of form factors that comes across as homey (I would otherwise venture to throw out that ambivalent term ‘comfort food’, but I hardly know enough about Southeast Asian comfort foods) but with confidently strong flavors and excellently cooked meat.
We were a group of five, so we ordered a good number of dishes to share. The five-spice chicharrons were tasty, crisp and savory, with a dipping sauce of coconut vinegar.The pork belly adobo was one of our collective favorites from the night, with generous slabs of pork belly fried til golden on the outside edges, with a sour-salty pool of fried garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar, thickened by the runny yolk of a soft-poached egg. Mantao buns are available as a side, so we ordered two bowls (four each), which were nicely fried and sprinkled with salt. It was the perfect combination for several of our dishes that came with a good deal of sauce, and if we didn’t feel like dipping them into something savory, I also asked for a small dish of condensed milk. That’s the way we do it in China (with fried buns, anyway), and Pig & Khao does Vietnamese coffee, so they definitely have condensed milk on hand. The khao soi was also delicious – a rich and creamy coconut red curry with some heavy egg noodles and pickled mustard greens for that lovable, but familiar weirdness. Like I said, homey, but from a different Asian inspiration than the adobo and the chicharrons, and served in these bowls with the old-school Chinese restaurant designs.The two fish dishes we got were fairly unremarkable, especially compared to what preceded them. The rice-crusted dorade was a bit hard to eat on account of the toughness of the rice (crispy, but also really gummy in the mouth), and what I thought was the relative blandness of the flavors in the banana-leaf cod (cooked well enough, but I wanted some more gustatory punch). Our last savory dish, the baby back ribs with Pig & Khao BBQ sauce (with a dusting of what looks like crushed peanuts, or maybe turmeric) and Asian slaw, was a strong finish before dessert. These bad boys are generously meaty, with a tangy glaze and a neatly arrayed char from whatever grill they are using in the restaurant’s small open kitchen. Given the folks from Fatty Cue are involved (at least as investors)For dessert, there was, like many of these popular Southeast Asian joints now), a very limited selection (two things). We got both: the halo-halo (shaved ice, leche flan, macapuno – a fleshy coconut, pinipig – crispy young rice, and ube – or purple yam – ice cream), and the turon (banana fritter, salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce).
The halo-halo was definitely a meal in and of itself, and after so much food, we didn’t really make much of a dent in it. It’s like a gangster bowl of Rice Krispies, with flan and ice cream, and also not particularly sweet. So if you have ample room after your savory dishes at Pig & Khao, go for it. Otherwise, share that thing.The turon was more along the lines of a traditional fritter dessert. The salted caramel ice cream was great.Pig & Khao (menu)
68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002