Big news! A Top Chef alum opened a restaurant right here in New York! If that sounds familiar, it’s because Top Chef churns out restaurateurs more often than Donald Trump gets into Twitter fights with Rosie O’Donnell. Fortunately, the people who cast Top Chef know what they’re doing, as evidenced by the restaurants of Harold Dieterle, Dale Talde, and Hung Huynh, among a few other former contestants. Season Five’s Leah Cohen is no exception. She can cook, and the open kitchen and small dining room with a chef’s counter at her restaurant Pig and Khao mean that you can watch her do it. Pig and Khao is backed by the Fatty Crew, who, as the group behind Fatty Crab, has a good bit of experience with the Southeast Asian Fusion small plates trend. (We’re just going to pretend Fatty ‘Cue never happened.) Their past experience pays off, since this menu is executed more effectively, and slightly less expensively, than either of those two places. And whether it’s one of the Fatty Crew or Leah herself, whoever manages their music playlist has damn good taste.
The menu is full of Thai and Filipino fusion dishes, and those are pretty good cuisines to fuse. These flavors together make way more sense than Guy Fieri’s Fried Salmon-Bacon-Cream Cheese-Sriracha sushi rolls. Yes, that’s a real thing that Guy Fieri actually serves in a restaurant that people pay to eat. Like every other new restaurant in this city, they don’t take reservations. Unlike most other new restaurants, they made my party of four wait a full hour longer than the fifteen minute wait they told us to expect, and did a less-than-stellar job of keeping us updated on it. Apparently it takes some people 45 minutes to pay their checks. Maybe they paid in pennies? I didn’t quite start gnawing on the wooden tables, but I was close.
They do have an unheated, uncovered garden area for those in the polar bear club. Or you can wait until spring to take advantage of the $15 all-you-can-drink keg that’s available back there. I think they’re counting on global warming to turn it into a year-round space. Until then, if you don’t mind tight seating and unpredictable waits, this is a great place to get together and share some small plates and drink cheap beer with a medium-sized group while listening to ‘90s rap. In other words, it’s a lot like every other buzzy restaurant that’s opened up in the last year.
They only have beer and wine at the moment, so their “cocktails” are wine-based. I stuck to the beer list, which is decent and well-priced. $3 Genny Cream Ales? I’ll have four, please.Spiced Chickpeas
Fried chickpeas coated in almost the same cumin/chile spice blend that Yunnan Kitchen uses on their Shao Kaos and Fried Pork Belly. If you like cumin, you’ll like these.Salmon Skin Chips with Chili Jam
Fried salmon skin tastes a lot like you would expect: fishy. They could benefit from a more crowd pleasing starter to share, the majority of the table had one chip and that was it. The chili jam was killer though, sweet and spicy all at once. I’d spread it on my toast if I was in my 40s and ate toast.Spicy Pickled Cabbage
If I see the words “spicy” and “pickled” next to each other, it’s going in my mouth. This was exactly as described.Green Mango Salad
A play on a classic Thai green papaya salad. The grilled chicken on top was tender and delicious. The rest of the salad was a nice light change from the other heavy dishes, but a little bit unimpressive.Khao Soi
One of their signature dishes, don't you dare skip this one. A Northern Thai inspired bowl of thicker noodles in a red curry broth with coconut milk, egg, crunchy Asian noodles, chicken, scallions and other goodness. One of the best things on the menu. We'll be coming back for it.Sizzling Sisig
Holy pork fat. Fatty, salty, crunchy bits of pork sizzling in a cast iron pan with an egg on top. Delicious for a few bites. A must order, but make sure you’re sharing this one unless you have a frequent customer punch card with your cardiologist.Quail Adobo
Tasty wings made from quail instead of chicken. I spoke in a British accent while I was eating these. Brits eat quail, right?Grilled Sirloin
Sliced meat to be placed in a lettuce wrap and dressed with crispy garlic and spicy sauce. Nothing bad about this, but nothing life changing either.Grilled Curry Lamb Ribs
Lamb Ribs covered in the same Chickpeas/Yunnan Kitchen spice blend. Some were fall off the bone tender, some had so little meat that my dog would have turned her nose up at them. Not their best work – I’d stick to the smaller plates.