Marc Forgione has made the transition awfully quickly. I mean, from chef to restaurateur.
Then, three months ago he opened the Laotian-themed Khe-Yo, followed soon thereafter by American Cut, a steakhouse, both within a few blocks’ radius of the first restaurant. It’s a good way to branch out, as the steakhouse can run on auto-pilot, and the chef at Khe-Yo is a former sous-chef of his, Soulayphet Schwader. It’s a Forgione restaurant in name only.
The dining room isn’t my kind of place: dark and gloomy, a thumping sound track, overly loud. It was full when I arrived for an 8:00pm reservation; our table wasn’t ready until 8:20. The nine-seat bar was full, at first, and there was nowhere to wait.
But for what it is, the service here is very good. The staff apologized profusely, and repeatedly, for seating us late. Once I finally got a bar seat, the tab was transferred to our table. I wouldn’t choose to go back, but if it’s your type of spot, you’ll be well cared for.
The menu is just 14 items (plus one special) in three categories: salads ($11–15), appetizers ($9–13) and entrees ($21–33). I assume these dishes are Laotian (a cuisine I’ve never tried before), but only in New York would the names of the purveyors be added to the name. Khy-Yo serves not just any beef jerky, but Creekstone Farms Beef Jerky.
In lieu of bread service, there’s sticky rice (above left). You dig into the basket with your fingers, mash a wad of rice into the shape of a ping pong ball, and dip it in one of the sauces, either sweet eggplant or hot chili. It works a lot better than you’d expect.
Steak tartare ($15; above right) was a special. The tartare itself (left side of the photo) was great, but the fried noodles (right side of the photo) tasted like shoe leather. Kale chips (the green blobs under the noodles) were okay.
That Creekstone Farms Sesame Beef Jerky ($12; above left) was terrific, but it almost seems like a gimmick to buy from such an expensive source, and then turn it into jerky. It comes with a smoked chili sauce that was shaped in an unusable solid blob. Fortunately, it didn’t need the sauce.
Braised Berkshire Pork Belly ($25; above right) is allegedly the chef’s family recipe. It tasted like brisket at a cheap buffet, with no discernable pork flavor whatsoever: the evening’s only dud.
I loved the Bell & Evans Grilled Half Chicken ($22; above left), tender and juicy, with a rich, smoky flavor. There was only one dessert ($7; above right), but a very satisfying one: a rice pudding with apple and peanut brittle, tasting a bit like a candied apple.
The wine and beverage list fits on one page, with seven beers, nine sakes, eighteen wines (mostly French, all available by the glass or the bottles) and eight house cocktails. I followed a bracing Kentucky bourbon cocktail ($13) with a bottle of 2008 Languedoc ($44).
Severs did not give very accurate advice about which dishes were spicy/mild. We might as well have ordered at random. Other than that, the service was not bad for such a casual place, and aside from the pork belly dish, we enjoyed all of what we tried.
This isn’t my type of place, but it might be yours.
Khe-Yo (157 Duane Street between Hudson & West Broadway, Tribeca)
Food: Laotian, interpreted for Manhattan
Service: Very good under the circumstances
Ambiance: A thumping soundtrack, in what feels like a subterranean room