What are a couple of Per Se vets doing in a Thai restaurant off the Bowery? I dunno, but they ought to keep doing it.
Like a lot of chefs trained in fine dining, Matt Danzig and Ann Redding (husband & wife) didn’t try to replicate that model when they struck out on their own. Redding’s from Thailand, Danzig had visited a lot and fell in love with the cuisine.
The early reviews have been mostly rapturous (two stars from Pete Wells), and they’re deserved. Danzig and Redding’s version of Thai cuisine is terrific, and well worth seeking out.
The space is decked out like a Thai tavern (a poor man’s Spice Market), and in a clever nod to the nearby Lighting District, no two light fixtures are the same. The rest of the décor is in dark wood and brick, with leafy plants in the window and an oldie sound track that doesn’t blast. Eater measured the sound level at almost 80db (comparable to a vacuum cleaner or an alarm clock), but we must have lucked out with our corner table: mercifully, we could hear ourselves talk.
The restaurant accepts limited reservations on its website, but many of the seats are reserved for walk-ins. There was nothing available online, but we took a chance at 7pm on a Saturday evening and were seated immediately. An hour or two later that probably wouldn’t have worked.
The Western influence is evident, in a focused menu that is practically old-school, with its recognizable appetizers ($8–15), entrées ($20–28), and side dishes ($3–8). Didn’t anyone tell them you’re not supposed to do that any more?
Despite the server’s recommendation to order entrées, we went with an all-appetizer dinner, and slightly over-ordered with six items, plus a side dish of sticky rice and a dessert. Doing it again, I’d say five appetizers for two people is sufficient, and I’d skip the rice.
MIENG KUM ($12; above left): Betel Leaf Wrap with Ginger, Lime, Toasted Coconut, Dried Shrimp, Chiles & Peanuts. Betel leaves are crisp, slightly resembling kale. You roll them up and dip them in the sauce, which is a bit spicy.
MUU TOD ($12; above right): Crispy Pork Belly with Shrimp Paste Nam Prik & Fish Sauce Caramel Dipping Sauces. The pork belly is criminally good.
NAM PRIK PLA DUUK ($14; above left): Charcoal Smoked Catfish & Pork Chili Dip served warm with Seasonal Vegetables & Crispy Pork Skin.
SAI KROK AMPAI ($10; above right): Grilled Issan Pork and Rice Sour Sausage.
The smoked catfish dip was the evening’s lone disappointment: slightly spicy, but without much discernable fish flavor. But the sausage, cooked on the charcoal grill, is well worth trying. It’s described as a rice sausage, and is a bit softer tha you’d expect.
I could have done without the sticky rice ($3; right), although for such a modest tariff it hardly mattered.
YUM KAI HUA PLI ($15; above left): Spicy Roasted Chicken & Banana Blossom Salad with Crushed Cashew, Crispy Shallot & Coconut Milk Dressing.
YUM MAMOUNG ($14; above right): Green Mango Salad — Avocado, Shallot, Crispy Dried Squid, Crushed Peanut, Chile & Lime.
The server advised (correctly) that the chicken was one of the hottest items on the menu, but I’d gladly have it again. The spices work beautifully together, reinforcing rather than cancelling the flavor of the chicken. After that, the green mango salad didn’t really register with me, but Wendy (who wanted something milder) confirmed that it had just a slight spice kick.
The only available dessert, as I recall, was a coconut ice cream sundae ($8; left).
Service was extremely attentive, exceeding by miles the modest expectations for this sort of restaurant. Most of the dishes came out at a reasonable pace, but a few of them did stack up near the end of the meal.
The wine list is the restaurant’s main weak spot. There were just three reds, and the least expensive of them was $53. That price buys a 2010 Grenache—or so you’d think. Instead, the server brought a 2012 (with no mention of the switch until I pointed it out), and charged the same amount for it.
That glitch aside, we very much enjoyed our visit to Uncle Boons. The cuisine, although nominally Thai, is very much a personal expression of the two chefs. You won’t have anything else quite like it anywhere else.
Uncle Boons (7 Spring Street between Elizabeth Street & Bowery, NoLIta)
Food: Thai cuisine, liberally interpreted
Service: Extremely attentive, marred only by the poor wine list
Ambiance: A poor man’s Spice Market