Entries in Leah Cohen (2)


Pig and Khao

Pig and Khao is the first solo venture for Top Chef alumna Leah Cohen, who is better known for shagging fellow cheftestant Hosea Rosenberg than for her performance on the show.

Cohen is actually a better chef than that. A CIA grad and former chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, she opened Centro Vinoteca in the West Village with Anne Burrell, and was later promoted to executive chef. She left the restaurant in late 2009 and spent a year in Asia.

This new restaurant, in the old Falai space, is a partnership with Fatty Crew, the outfit behind the various “Fatty” restaurants (Crab, ’Cue). The food may be Cohen’s, but there’s Fatty DNA all over the place, from the casual no-reservations vibe, to the cocktail program and even the china.

The cuisine is nominally Filipino (as is Cohen on her mother’s side), though like most “Fatty” restaurants, it’s a mash-up of so many different Asian and American culininary styles that it really isn’t authentically anything.

The whole menu, including the cocktail and wine list, fits on a single sheet of paper. It’s dominated by small plates ($9–15), with just three proper entrées ($24–28), a few sides ($4–8), and a couple of desserts ($8). Cocktails are inexpensive ($10); along with beers, they vastly outnumber the wines (just five choices).

But none of this is necessarily a drawback. Especially at a new restaurant, I’d rather choose from a dozen items the chef thinks she can nail than from many dozens she can’t.

Sizzling Sisig ($12; above) is a legitimate Filipino dish, with chillies and pork face. The whole egg on top may be Cohen’s idea, as it’s not mentioned in any of the online recipies I checked. It’s served on a cast-iron skillet, still frying as you eat it. This is one of my favorite dishes of the year.


Curry Lamb Ribs ($24; above) are grilled at a low heat for many hours. They pull off the bone easily, then you wrap them in whole wheat pancakes with beets and yogurt. This is another terrific dish.

I visited quite early on a Friday evening—I was practically the first customer—so I was well taken care of. Cohen was in the house, but working mostly downstairs in the prep kitchen. She did make two brief appearances, wearing a thin red t-shirt with the words “Pleasure Dispenser” printed across her chest.

The space is attractively remodeled, and more casual than in the Falai days. It isn’t a large restaurant, especially with the backyard garden closed in colder weather. For a solo diner, a seat at the chef’s counter is the way to go.

The two dishes I ordered may be the best ones: I had the advantage of reading early reviews and heeding their recommendations. We’ll have to see if the chef has more arrows like that in her quiver.

Pig and Khao (68 Clinton St. between Rivington & Stanton Sts, Lower East Side)

Food: Flipino cuisine, liberally interpreted
Service: Casual, but just fine for what it is
Ambiance: Right out of the Fatty playbook

Why? A couple of excellent dishes, but menu and beverage program need to grow 


Centro Vinoteca

[Kalina via Eater]

Note: Centro Vinoteca closed in March 2013. The following review was written under chef Leah Cohen, who left the restaurant in September 2009.


Centro Vinoteca is one of those restaurants that raises immediate suspicion, with its achingly long 18-month gestation and a game of musical chefs before it served its first meal in the summer of 2007. Frank Bruni’s middling one-star review did nothing to pique my curiosity.

Last fall, founding chef Anne Burrell—she of the blonde spikey hair, perhaps best known as Mario Batali’s sidekick on Iron Chefleft the restaurant. Apparently all of her TV gigs were interfering with more important matters—like, you know, cooking. No successor was announced, but the owners quietly passed the baton to sous chef Leah Cohen (left), whom they knew — although we did not — was about to appear as a “cheftestant” on Season 5 of Bravo’s Top Chef.

Cohen has had an eventful season on the show. As of this writing, she has made it to the final five, out of an original cast of seventeen. She is not a bad chef, but she will probably be remembered for getting caught on camera playing tonsil hockey with a fellow cheftestant. Most observers expect her to be sent home well before the finale, as she has barely scraped by in the last several challenges.

Of course, the episodes we watch now were taped months ago. As of today, Cohen is chef de cuisine at Centro Vinoteca, and the restaurant’s website doesn’t fail to remind you. I don’t know how many people visit the restaurant to see her—as if you could actually “see” anything—but they are milking it for all it’s worth.

We paid a visit on Saturday evening. Okay, I’ll admit it: I wanted to see what Cohen’s food was like, apart from the contrived and time constrained challenges imposed on TV. Whether due to Cohen’s minor celebrity turn or other reasons, the restaurant was as crowded as any we have been in lately. It is a noisy, cramped space, and not especially pleasant. (An upstairs dining room appears to be a bit more civilized.)

For a casual Italian joint, prices here are a tad on the high side, with antipasti $10–16, primi $14–18, and secondi $22–36. The menu appears to be changing regularly. Many of the items mentioned in the Bruni review have been replaced.


Both pastas were very strong: a kabocha squash ravioli with walnuts ($14; above left) and a squid ink tagliatelle with baby squid, shrimp and cockles ($18; above right). But both pastas got cold too quickly, as the plates had not been pre-warmed.


Sausage-Stuffed Baby Chicken ($22; above left) suffered from a lack of balance between its two main ingredients. There was about a millimeter of chicken wrapped around far too much of the sausage. It was tender and nicely complemented by a bed of creamy polenta and mushrooms, but the sausage was too powerful a presence.

Ribeye Steak ($36; above right) is a bail-out dish in many restaurants. It was beautifully done here, but my girlfriend said that the potato prosciutto fontina cake underneath it was inedible.

If Centro Vinoteca offered a more quieter atmosphere, I might consider returning to try more of the pastas. They weren’t good enough to compensate for the loud, cramped atmosphere and the uneven entrées.

Centro Vinoteca (74 Seventh Avenue S. at Bleecker/Barrow Streets, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: unpleasant
Overall: *