Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Three years ago today, we had recently returned from our road trip through Pennsylvania (need to get back to recapping that...) and went out for dinner at our first Laotian (or as they describe it, Laotian-inspired Southeast Asian) restaurant, Khe-Yo in Tribeca. At the time, it had just recently opened, and we couldn't wait to try a cuisine that was mostly new to us. Usually, unless part of a trip recap, we would skip restaurant recaps that are this old, except: (a) it was three years ago today and it's nice to relive the experience, (b) this is one of only two Laotian restaurants we've ever been to, and (c) some of the same dishes are still on the menu so it isn't entirely out-of-date.

The meal started off with some complimentary snacks - some sticky rice along with bang bang sauce and some other sauce that we can't remember. We had read some reviews of Khe-Yo before going, so we already knew that the expectation was that you would pick up balls of sticky rice with your fingers and then dip them in bang bang sauce, which was exactly what we did. The first taste we had of the bang bang sauce was really exciting. It was a giant burst of flavor, a combination of spice from the Thai chiles, garlic, fish sauce, and citrus from lime, and maybe some other herbs. It reminded us of the hot sauce we get from the Isaan Thai restaurants, which makes complete geographic sense. We loved this, and it started off the meal on a very high note.

Back when we went to Khe-Yo, the menu started off with a salad section with three options for laap (chicken, duck, and fluke). (Currently only the duck remains on the menu.) We elected to try the chicken one, since that was often our baseline for evaluating various Thai restaurants, and we were curious to see how this one would differ. It arrived covered in what looked like cracklings with thick chunks of romaine hearts on the side.

The laap itself was really well-flavored and we liked it a lot. The addition of bean sprouts was different, but the crunch was welcome. The cracklings ended up being fried chicken skin which gave it a different, crunchy texture along with some additional saltiness.

We got two appetizers to continue our meal. The first, we had been eyeing ever since we first looked at the menu, and that was the crunchy coconut rice (nam khao), which came with spicy kaffir lime sausage and baby iceberg lettuce. Similar to everything else we had tried, everything here was packed with flavor. It was basically pieces of sausage and rice balls, which sounds simple, but it was really, really good. Not surprising that this one is still on the menu three years later.

We also got the pork belly and shrimp crispy rolls, "homestyle," which came with a lot of accompaniments. There was some vermicelli, various salad ingredients and lettuce for wrapping, and a sauce on the side with carrot in it. One of the really nice things about the accompaniments was that they included perilla, which added such a unique flavor and was perfect to go with the rolls, making them seem so fresh and clean despite being fried. As for the rolls themselves, we remember them being on par with good spring rolls from Thai restaurants, but unfortunately, it's been too long to remember any specific elements of the flavors.

One of the more interesting dishes we got, and one which certainly seemed more Laotian-inspired than traditional, was the chili prawns (goong phet) with ginger scallion toast and Thai basil. The prawns were huge, and there were enough there for both of us to have two, as well as a slice of toast each. The toast was thick like Texas toast, and soaked up all of the curry flavor. It was just such an interesting dish, and we liked it. This is still on the menu, so I guess other people liked the flavor as much as we did.

Although everything we had at Khe-Yo was good, our favorites were probably the laap and the sticky rice with the bang bang sauce. What we loved most of all were that the flavors were so vibrant and nuanced. We've always intended to return, but with all the restaurants in the city, just haven't gotten back there yet. We did have another Laotian food adventure in DC this year that we'll recap at some point (hopefully soon), and hopefully we'll also make it back to Khe-Yo at some point.

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